The US’s top trade official declined on Thursday to say if Taiwan would be invited to join the Washington-led Indo-Pacific economic plan, spurring Senate criticism that excluding it would be a missed opportunity.
Taiwan has voiced its desire to be a “full member” of the forthcoming Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), one part of the administration’s effort to counter what it says is Beijing’s increasing economic and military coercion in the region.
The administration says the still fledgling IPEF aims to be inclusive, but it has not publicly detailed any membership plans.
IPEF is intended as a flexible economic framework that would align members on supply chain security, infrastructure, labour standards, clean energy and other issues.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai called Taiwan an essential partner, but that no decisions had been made on membership, in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.
“On the point of Taiwan, we are in general in conversations with those who are interested in joining this framework,” Tai said when asked by Senator Bob Menendez if the island would be invited to join the framework.
“Participation in the IPEF is still under consideration, and as far as I’m aware no decisions have been made,” said Tai, the US-born daughter of immigrants from Taiwan.
Menendez responded that the democratically governed Taiwan was a key strategic and trading partner intertwined with US economic security.
“I get a sense from that answer that we will not include Taiwan within the IPEF, which is missing an opportunity,” he said.
The exchange followed a March 30 letter from 200 members of Congress from both parties, including Republicans Michael McCaul, Liz Cheney and Elise Stefanik, and Democrats Ted Lieu, Ro Khanna and Elissa Slotkin, urging Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to invite Taiwan to join the IPEF.
Both Democratic and Republican senators complained that the IPEF would not include a free-trade deal that lowers tariffs.
Tai said the IPEF would not lower tariffs for member countries but would offer “economically meaningful outcomes” to promote trade and market access.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell
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