Taiwan and the GATT

Wednesday, January 1st, 1992 at 12:00 am by James V. Feinerman
James V. Feinerman, Taiwan and the GATT, 1992 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 39

Since the early 1980s, the Republic of China on Taiwan (“ROC” or ” Taiwan”) has been eager to gain admission to the world’s major international trade regulatory regime, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the ” GATT”). Taiwan’s desire to join the GATT has raised a number of intriguing questions for international legal specialists, trade lawyers and students of Chinese affairs. As for international law, entry to the GATT of a regime which is neither a member of the United Nations nor recognized by most of the world as the government of a sovereign nation is a troubling prospect. Trade lawyers have a number of concerns with respect to Taiwan’s commitment to the principles of the GATT. The strident opposition of the government of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC” or “China”) on the Chinese mainland, itself a candidate for membership in the GATT, presents a further obstacle. Despite burgeoning contacts, and trade, across the Taiwan Strait, it is difficult to imagine the PRC countenancing Taiwan’s admission to the GATT, at least before the PRC gains entry. Doubtless many in the GATT would prefer that the question of Taiwan’s application for GATT membership continue to be deferred indefinitely; however, the dynamics of international trade and Taiwan’s surging economic juggernaut make postponement increasingly problematic.

Due to the delicate political questions which are necessarily raised by the application of Taiwan to join the GATT, no simple solution has yet arisen to provide for uncontested admission of Taiwan to the body. I shall attempt briefly to survey the issues which surround Taiwan’s quest for entry to the GATT, beginning with a brief history and background for the present controversy. I also hope to assess the benefit which may accrue both to Taiwan and the international trading order from Taiwan’s accession to the GATT, the potential and existing problems which have been posed by the PRC and current parties to the GATT with respect to the admission of Taiwan, and proposals for possible resolution of these problems. In closing, I consider the advisability of admitting participants in the global economy, such as Taiwan, to the GATT regardless of their international political status or the opposition of powerful nations or blocs to their admission.

Author Information

Associate Professor, Georgetown University Law Center