BY JAMES HILL
A selection of these news stories are also covered in AmCham Taiwan’s Executive Sweet podcast, available to listen to here.
U.S.-Taiwan Trade Talks Continue
The United States and Taiwan concluded the second round of trade talks in Taipei between January 14 and 17 as part of the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade negotiation framework. Taiwan’s Office of Trade Negotiations expressed hope that an early harvest list can be agreed upon soon.
In a statement, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said that both sides had “reached consensus in a number of areas and pledged to maintain an ambitious negotiating schedule in the months ahead to continue this momentum.”
The U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade was unveiled in June 2022 and covers such areas as trade facilitation, anti-corruption measures, small and medium-sized enterprises, good regulatory practices, and environmental protection. The U.S. is Taiwan’s second-largest trade partner, accounting for 12.6% of total trade in 2021.
Kevin McCarthy Elected House Speaker
Kevin McCarthy, a Republican representative from California, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives after 15 ballot rounds, the longest process to elect a House Speaker since 1923. McCarthy had previously said that if elected Speaker, he would visit Taiwan. No such trip is currently planned, however. The visit last August of his predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, sparked a vehement reaction from Beijing, including the conducting of military exercises in the seas near Taiwan.
Former Taiwan VP visits Vatican
Former Vice President Chen Chien-jen on January 5 attended the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy. In his capacity as President Tsai’s special envoy, Chen met with the Holy See’s Substitute for the Secretariat of State, Edgar Peña Parra, Secretary for Relations with States Paul Richard Gallagher, and Head of Protocol Joseph Murphy, and sat alongside heads of states from several countries. The Holy See is Taiwan’s only remaining diplomatic ally in Europe.
China Reopens Its Borders
China reopened its borders on January 8 to most travelers after nearly three years of strict Covid-related restrictions. The world’s second-largest economy had one of the most stringent Covid regimes, with frequent lockdowns, extensive testing, and quarantine requirements. The reopening comes after widespread citizen protests against China’s zero-Covid policy in December.
Several countries, including South Korea, Japan, the United States, and Taiwan, responded by announcing enhanced testing measures for travelers from China. Taiwan will collect saliva samples from those entering from China, with travelers testing positive required to undergo five days of quarantine. China has retaliated against South Korea and Japan’s decision to test travelers from China on entry by refusing to issue visas to South Korean and Japanese nationals.
VP Lai Elected DPP Leader
Vice President Lai Ching-te on January 15 was elected leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Lai ran unopposed after President Tsai resigned to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing in November’s local elections. Lai is widely expected to be the party’s nominee for the presidential elections in January 2024, when Tsai is ineligible to run.
Presiding over the DPP’s Central Standing Committee’s meeting for the first time on February 1, Lai outlined three key priorities for the party: to provide full support for new Premier Chen Chien-jen and members of his new Cabinet (see below), to campaign for DPP candidate Tsai Pei-hui in a Nantou County legislative by-election, and to “safeguard Taiwan, enhance Taiwan’s democracy, and strive for peace and prosperity.”
New Cabinet Sworn In
President Tsai Ing-wen on January 27 appointed former Vice President Chen Chien-jen as Premier as part of a Cabinet reshuffle. Former Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan was appointed Vice Premier. The appointments followed the resignation of former Premier Su Tseng-chang and his Cabinet the week before.
Among the new appointments, professor and researcher Roy Lee was named a deputy minister of foreign affairs, environmental engineering professor Wang Ya-fen was appointed deputy minister of the Environmental Protection Administration, and former DPP lawmaker Lee Chun-yi will serve as deputy minister of labor.
Retaining their positions are Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua, Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun, Financial Supervisory Commission chair Huang Tien-mu, and NDC Minister Kung Ming-hsin, while former deputy Minister of Finance Chuang Tsui-yun will become the MOF minister.
In another change, Lin Chia-lung, a former Mayor of Taichung and Minister of Transportation and Communications, was named Secretary-General of the Presidential Office, replacing David Tawei Lee.
Chen, who pledged to strengthen Taiwan’s economy, environment, and resilience, was sworn into office along with the new Cabinet and Presidential Office appointments on January 31 in a ceremony presided over by President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office.
Taiwan Passes Net Zero Legislation
Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan on January 10 passed the Climate Change Response Act, which sets a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The law also establishes a carbon tax mechanism for the nation’s largest emitters.
The bill calls for a review every four years, with most responsibility falling on local governments to reduce emissions within their jurisdiction. The carbon tax system, meanwhile, will likely take effect from the beginning of 2024 and impose fees on an estimated 287 companies with annual carbon dioxide emissions of at least 25,000 tons. Money raised from the tax will be spent on carbon reduction technology.
Several other countries, including Japan, South Korea, Canada, and the UK, as well as the EU, have already legislated net zero targets for 2050 or earlier.
CECC Mulls Covid Downgrade
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced on February 1 that Covid-19 might be downgraded on the notifiable communicable disease scale in May or June. The announcement follows the World Health Organization’s statement that the Covid-19 pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern, but its status may be revised during a meeting in late April.
Japan has already stated that it may downgrade Covid-19 to the same classification as seasonal flu, and the U.S. White House announced that President Joe Biden would end Covid-19 emergency declarations on May 11.
In light of these developments, the CECC announced it would ease testing requirements for international arrivals and people under self-disease-prevention orders. These individuals will only need to take a rapid test if they develop symptoms, with the number of free test kits reduced to one.
The CECC’s announcement represents a positive step toward the eventual control of the Covid-19 pandemic and a return to normalcy.