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Taiwan, US wrap first trade talks since 2007

Deputy US Trade representative, Demetrios Marantis, pictured in Taipei on March 10, 2013
Deputy US Trade representative Demetrios Marantis attends a meeting of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in Taipei, on March 10, 2013. Taiwan and the US resumed trade talks after a hiatus of five years as the politically isolated island seeks t

Taiwan and major trading partner the United States concluded their stalled trade talks -- the first since 2007 -- as the politically isolated island seeks to join regional trade blocs.

Officials from the two sides were tight-lipped on the agenda of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which kicked off at 9:00 am in Taipei.

Earlier the state Central News Agency said Taiwanese negotiators plan to seek US support of Taiwan's bids to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership while raising the idea of signing a bilateral investment deal and a comprehensive free trade agreement.

The US delegation was led by Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, according to a statement released by the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto embassy.

Taiwan's chief negotiator Cho Shih-chao, who is also the vice economic affairs minister, on Saturday reassured the island's pig farmers, who have a strong political lobby, that pork would not be on the agenda of the one-day discussions.

Pig farmers had been worried that Taipei might yield to US pressure and lift a ban on imports of US pork containing the controversial additive ractopamine in exchange for the reopening of the talks.

Negotiations on the trade talks, seen as a precursor to a full free trade agreement, had been dormant since 2007.

The hiatus was prompted when Taiwan banned US beef containing ractopamine, a drug used in animal feed to promote lean meat. Taipei amended the law in July 2012 to allow imports of beef to resume.

Washington is the island's third largest trade partner and a leading arms supplier, despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Sunday's talks were seen as part of efforts by the trade-reliant island to break political barriers and sign free trade agreements so as to avoid being marginalised by a growing number of regional economic blocs.

Taiwan has free trade deals with Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua and has been pushing for tie-ups with other trading partners including Singapore.

But talks have become bogged down, largely due to pressure from Beijing, which still considers the island part of its territory even though it has governed itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Ties between Taiwan and China have however improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists. He was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and final four-year term.