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President Ma meets US Department of State's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Kurt Tong

President Ma Ying-jeou met on the morning of November 21 with the US Department of State's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Kurt Tong. Apart from reiterating Taiwan's urgent need to be a part of regional economic integration, the president also called for continued strengthening of relations between Taiwan and the United States through further cooperation.

In remarks, President Ma stated that in his New Year's address this year he proclaimed 2014 the "year of Taiwan's economic breakthrough." He pointed out that the development of economic and trade relations between Taiwan and the United States is key to economic growth here. President Ma commented that over the past several weeks, high-ranking economic and trade officials from both countries have met several times to exchange opinions on issues of mutual concern. This, he said, is testament to the importance that both countries place on the bilateral trade relationship.

Discussing advances in economic and trade ties in recent years, the president mentioned that in the first nine months of this year bilateral trade reached US$45.9 billion, up 6.9% from the year-ago period. Taiwan, he noted, has passed India to become the 11th largest trading partner of the United States, while the United States is Taiwan's third largest trading partner. In addition, the United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment in Taiwan, he stated. President Ma remarked that Taiwan and the United States resumed talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in March of last year after a five-year hiatus. He called for continued action in this vein and the eventual signing of a bilateral investment agreement, which would further boost the economic and trade relationship.

The president stated that he has been working to strengthen relations with the United States since taking office in 2008, and that ties are at their best state in the 35 years since the Taiwan Relations Act took effect. The president commented that this year a number of high-ranking officials from the United States have visited Taiwan, noting that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan in April and announced the EPA's participation in the International Environmental Partnership established by the ROC's Environmental Protection Administration. Administrator McCarthy's visit marked the first trip to Taiwan by an American Cabinet official in 14 years, and was the first time in recent decades that a Cabinet official from Taiwan or the United States has formally announced the establishment of a partnership on a substantive issue, he said. This, the president remarked, was an extremely significant development.

President Ma then stated that former ROC Vice President Vincent C. Siew (蕭萬長) recently represented him at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting and communicated to the international community Taiwan's determination to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional economic integration mechanisms. The former vice president also engaged in bilateral discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom he exchanged in-depth views on Taiwan's desire to join the TPP and sign a bilateral investment agreement with the United States. In addition, they also talked about the recent completion by mainland China and Korea of negotiations on a free trade agreement, the president stated. President Ma said that in light of the threat to Taiwan associated with Korea's active moves to expand its economic and trade alliances, it is all the more urgently necessary for Taiwan to join in regional economic integration.

The president mentioned remarks made in an address on November 20 by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tong, who said Taiwan lags behind Korea, and must consider its role in the Asia-Pacific economy. If Taiwan does not move forward, it will become marginalized in the process of integration within the Asian region, President Ma stressed.

Last year, Taiwan and mainland China signed the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, but deliberations on approval of the agreement have been stalled for a year and a half in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. The lengthy delay, said the president, is undoubtedly impacting the international image of the ROC and adversely affecting the ROC's chances of joining the TPP and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). "If we disregard what's going on in the world, the world is not going to wait for Taiwan," he stated.

Discussing cross-strait relations, the president said that after he took office Taiwan and mainland China began building relations on the foundation of the "1992 Consensus," whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means. This has led to positive changes in the cross-strait relationship, he noted. The two sides have signed 21 agreements, reached consensus on two issues, and established an institutionalized negotiation mechanism, the president stated. He added that the heads of the agencies on each side responsible for cross-strait affairs have already met three times this year, and the two sides have expressed willingness to handle related issues with a pragmatic attitude. This shows that cross-strait relations will continue to develop in the direction of peace and stability, he stated.

President Ma stressed that apart from seeking to improve cross-strait relations and reduce tension in the Taiwan Strait, the government is also working to take part in international and regional aid work. He said that the ROC and the United States are working closely together in providing humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). In addition, the ROC is coordinating with the United States on a response to the Ebola outbreak. Taiwan has donated 100,000 protective suits and US$1 million. The president said: "Although there is only so much that we can do, we won't be absent from the effort."

After President Ma completed his remarks, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tong made a statement. He first thanked the president for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with him, and applauded the coordination between Taiwan and the United States in fighting the Ebola virus. At the same time, he stated, Taiwan has been quite wise to concurrently pursue better relationships with the United States, mainland China, and other APEC economies. The United States, he said, also welcomes formal economic agreements between Taiwan and the United States that would add depth to the bilateral relationship, and he hopes to soon see results from substantive cooperation.

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