In January, State Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, got an email from government officials in Taiwan wondering if he would be interested in taking part in a trade mission to the Pacific island nation.
It had all the markings of spam, so he disregarded the message.
But later there was a follow-up email. Taiwan, already a consumer of Montana wheat, was indeed interested in expanding trade to include more wheat, beef products and other agricultural goods.
At one time, Montana had a trade office in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, and Taiwanese officials wanted to see if it could be reopened.
There have been other Montana trade delegations to Taiwan over the years. State Sen. JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, went two years ago and was interested in returning this year. So in late September, she and Bachmeier joined a five-member delegation from Oregon and Washington state on a 10-day trip to the prosperous and growing island country.
The first day was a wash because of typhoon threats, but the rest of the trip included meetings with government and business leaders throughout the island.
The delegation was surprised by the widespread availability of high-ranking, cabinet-level government officials who were knowledgeable about the Pacific Northwest and the products the region offers.
While the Taiwanese get most of their beef products from Idaho, they are interested in what Montana has to offer. They also want to know what poultry products are available, Bachmeier said.
“There are some great opportunities for Montana agriculture here,” Bachmeier believes.
Montana exports lots of agricultural products to China, but trade relations have been strained as of late because of the trade wars and high tariffs imposed by the U.S. government.
But Taiwan eagerly awaits trade deals with the United States, he said.
Taiwan is a jumping off point for much of Southeast Asia, Bachmeier said. As a regional launching pad, raw products often are sent to Taiwan where they are processed and forwarded to other Asian countries. In return, Taiwan sends large quantities of high-technology products to the United States, Bachmeier said.
But trade with Taiwan is complex, he said, because the United States, like most of the western world, does not have diplomatic relations. Mainland China claims territorial rights over Taiwan, and although the claim is widely disregarded, the communists are what Taiwan calls bullies. They threaten retaliation against countries that formally recognize Taiwan. So it is diplomatically isolated.
Sign up for the free Herald newsletter to receive the latest news delivered into your inbox.
While Montana has no trade offices with other countries, an office with Taiwan would expedite good trading relations.
Bachmeier said whether or not he is re-elected to the Legislature, he will push in the 2021 session to re-open the trade office. Another action, he said, that will help improve relations is to have a reciprocal driver’s license agreement. Thirty-seven states give driving privileges to Taiwanese citizens and vice versa, but not Montana.
While driver’s licenses are not as important in a country where bullet trains, buses and other forms of mass transit are far more common than in the United States, it would make it much easier for business people traveling back and forth, he said.
That also would probably require action by the Legislature.
In addition, the Taiwanese are interested in more cultural exchanges, including college student exchange programs. Bachmeier said he would look into that. Some states offer Taiwanese students in-state tuition rates to encourage that kind of program.
Email John Kelleher at [email protected]