Three US ministries have reportedly sent a joint letter urging the top 500 American companies – including Walmart, Apple, Amazon and General Electric – to boost their business presence in Taiwan.

They have asked for more people to invest in the self-ruled island which is feeling the bite of a prolonged trade war as well as China’s clampdown.

The letter, jointly signed off by David Stilwell, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ian Steff, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Manufacturing in the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, as well as Ken Isley, administrator of the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, also highlighted recent political wrangling over Taiwan and Hong Kong on these companies’ websites and in their ads.

“The US government does not dictate how [American] private companies choose to label Taiwan and has publicly expressed our position that no government should impose political standards on how companies present information to their customers,” read the letter issued earlier this month.

It was reported that this was the first time US government agencies responsible for diplomacy, commerce and agriculture had sent a document advocating more business with Taiwan. In the past, such letters would only be sent to state and city governments.

Increasingly, western multinational companies have been told to toe Beijing’s line that Taiwan is a renegade province under Beijing’s suzerainty. Protests in Hong Kong must be condemned and companies must rectify their references and commercials deemed as incorrect, for the sake of their operations and profitability in the massive Chinese market.

Taiwan insists that Beijing’s use of economic power to coerce global businesses into adhering to its decrees constitutes a breach of its sovereignty and is a disgrace to the principle of free markets.

Cruz talks of FTA for Taiwan

Earlier, US Senator Ted Cruz said the US should sign a free trade pact with Taiwan while he was attending Taiwan’s National Day celebrations in Taipei as the first American politician to have done so since Washington switched its diplomatic allegiance to Beijing 40 years ago.

US Senator Ted Cruz told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen that he would table a motion for an FTA with the island. Photo: Central News Agency, Taiwan

Cruz told Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen that he would consider tabling a motion to encourage the US Commerce Department to set up a task force to explore ways to boost trade with Taiwan and work with their Taiwanese counterparts to start drafting an FTA.

The US’s goods and services trade with Taiwan totaled US$94.5 billion last year, with US$40.3 billion worth of exports versus total imports of US$54.2 billion, meaning a deficit of almost US$14 billion, according to the US Department of Statistics.

Meanwhile, the State Department has also agreed to continue to accord Taiwan preferential treatment under its Visa Waiver Program mainly for its allies like the UK, Japan, South Korean, Australia, etc, allowing Taiwanese passport holders to travel to and stay in the US for sightseeing or business for up to 90 days without a visa, even though Taiwan’s sovereignty was never recognized by Washington.

EU deals

There have also been reports that Taiwan was looking to enter into a similar FTA and investment accord with the European Union.

Tsai told a Dutch parliamentarian and trade delegation last Thursday that the island’s representatives had been “crisscrossing capitals in Europe” soliciting support from EU member states for a bilateral investment agreement.

The Dutch House of Representatives this month passed a motion in support of Taiwan’s international participation, following the setting up of a mechanism for vice-ministerial level dialogue on economic affairs between the Netherlands and the island.

At a public hearing on EU-Taiwan trade relations in Brussels in February, Peter Berz, the European Commission official responsible for trade links with Asia, said the union would not rule out signing a bilateral investment agreement and FTA with Taiwan, despite its adherence to the “one China” policy.