Former State Department Head of Taiwan Affairs: 2024 U.S./Taiwan Elections Could Spur BTA

Global Taiwan Institute

On October 6, 2022, former U.S. State Department official Christian Castro said that the 2024 United States and Taiwan presidential elections could help spur a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and Taiwan. Castro, a former Director of the Office of Taiwan Coordination at the U.S. State Department under President Obama, made this statement during the 2022 Annual Symposium hosted by the Global Taiwan Institute.

During Panel II of the Symposium, Castro discussed the current condition of a potential US-Taiwan BTA.

“With the BTA… it’s always good to have that goal in mind… If you look at the window of opportunity, it’s a very good window of opportunity… You have a very trade literate government in place in Taiwan, a President who was a trade negotiator herself, and an extremely capable trade team around her, that navigated a lot of difficult domestic political circumstances to achieve a lot of progress on the trade side that was important to the United States. That’s a very good window of opportunity, in part because that government will only be in place for the next couple of years… clearly you want to try to do [a BTA] within that time period before 2024.

Now looking at that window, yes it’s broad, but [we have] some warnings that Mr. Kurt Tong mentioned. If you want to do something as robust as a trade agreement, given the difficult negotiations surrounding it, how deep is that support? What do you want to put on the table for congress that will move that ball forward a little bit?… It’s a really difficult challenge but… as a preface to that challenge… I do think it starts [for congresspersons] not from those excellent strategic augments,… but from ‘why Taiwan matters for America’… When it comes down to it, how does it benefit Congress’ states, their local constituents, and really when you get down to, it if you can make those key arguments [during negotiations], that sometimes will bring it over the line. As a former bureaucrat policy maker, I’d be thinking less about the strategic arguments… [but at the grass roots arguments]…

I’ll mention in this framework is the challenges… I think our panelists have very interesting views on the 21st [Century] Trade Initiative… but all I want that to do is produce deliverables and momentum. So in other words, you have these two capable teams now engaged in this process. The discussions are going on now in a board range of sector areas and what I would want with this great challenge… is to actually produce these building blocks… Let’s produce those deliverables that give you sort of the contours of what a potential BTA might look like. Now neither administration on either side seems to be mentioning, officially, those letters ‘BTA,’ but you sort of want to imagine that so that if you get that progress and you have those deliverables, then this long time concept of building blocks leading toward a larger goal might actually work.”

Castro concluded his speech by saying,

“Over the last couple of months, the Biden administration has been spelling out concretely what it wants to do… The four pillar areas that provide tremendous opportunities are: investing heavily in science and technology… cultivating STEM talent and bringing more STEM to the United States… maintaining the U.S. lead in key technologies… and achieving stronger cooperation with partners and allies and achieving all these objectives. What better partner to have than Taiwan?

To wrap up, the challenge probably centers around just a few questions that are specifically U.S.-Taiwan related. The first one is, looking at these pillars… how you want to contribute towards them. You are asking major companies like TSMC to invest in the United States as part of this re-shoring process… It doesn’t’ make complete business sense, but what we’re asking them to do is achieve this new paradigm of less reliance on the Chinese market, adjust to the process, and find a way to make it work. That’s the key question. How can we find a way to ensure…that it is mutually beneficial to both sides, not just in terms of the balance sheet… There are other things we can do in the context of U.S. Taiwan cooperation that would actually I think would be beneficial to both sides and encourage these things to continue and to be more durable for the long term.

The second challenge which is key is this talent issue, or the lack of talent. So many new fabs and new facilities, all of these jobs going wanting, all of these countries competing for the same talent. Essentially, what do you do if the fab is empty and you don’t have your talent? It’s not going to run. So, what can the U.S. and Taiwan do to address this issue? I will say that the short term answer is that there isn’t much you can do in the short term… In the long term, what are the policies that will make a difference for attracting talent, filling those spots, making sure those investments work, and fulfilling the vision of the pillars?…

The final challenge is, if we are focusing on research and development and, knowing that the U.S. already is a power in research and development particularly in the semiconductor space (so it Taiwan), how do we bring those two sides together in a way that achieves that goal of technological supremacy in those areas for generations to come?… To be perfectly honest, if we are to do R&D with a foreign partner, I’d love it to be with Taiwan, which has been so innovative in this space and that’s a very major challenge…

So, what’s the goal, what are the windows of opportunity, and what are the challenges?… Those are the things that you need to do. It’s certainly a tough agenda, but to be honest, for supporters of U.S-Taiwan Relations, those are the questions that will matter to this relationship for generations to come.”

The US-Taiwan Bilateral Trade Agreement Coalition welcomes Mr. Castro’s comments and support for a BTA.

Mr. Castro’s speech starts at 3:05:02 in this video from the GTI event.

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