China may be the top trading partner for the L.A. area's huge ports, but it's getting a big boost from Taiwan.
As much as a third of the imports coming into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach from the Asian giant are produced by Taiwanese companies operating on mainland China, according to a report released Wednesday at a trade conference in Long Beach.
The data, issued by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., showed increasing influence from Taiwan on the local economy.
FOR THE RECORD:
Taiwan trade: In the June 5 Business section, an article about U.S. trade with Taiwan said that the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement includes South Korea. It does not.
Los Angeles could stand to benefit more significantly, economists suggested, were the small island nation allowed to join a proposed 12-nation trade group known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Last year, the Los Angeles area handled more than a quarter of the trade between Taiwan and the U.S., and the value of the goods traded reached $17 billion, up 7.8% from a year earlier. Taiwan ranks behind China, Japan and Korea as the region's fourth-largest trading partner, according to the report.
Taiwan's economy has been weakened recently by the slowdown in China and the recession in Europe.
But last year, Taiwanese imports, much of them computer and electronic products, surged 9% in the Los Angeles area to $9.5 billion, the highest level since 2007.
Local exports to Taiwan rose 6.4% last year to $7.6 billion. The record high was built on aerospace goods as well as transportation and agriculture products.
Trade relations between Taiwan and the U.S. — especially California — are "very close," Taiwan President Ma Ying Jeou told The Times in an interview last month in Taipei.
The Asian government has designated advisors to maintain relationships in Silicon Valley, he said.
The nation also eased its regulations for reviewing foreign investment applications.
To further the relationship with the U.S., Ma said he hopes that Taiwan will be allowed to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Joining a major regional trade alliance that includes the U.S., Japan and South Korea would give Taiwan greater access to foreign markets and help the island economy diversify and rely less on mainland China, a major risk for Taiwan.
Talks on a Pacific trade deal are in the final stages and could be concluded this summer, so it probably would be at least several years before Taiwan and other parties could be added to it.
Taiwan faces the additional political hurdle of operating in the shadow of China. Beijing regards the island as part of its territory and has frowned at the idea of Taiwan becoming a part of a regional trade group that excludes China and is led by the U.S.
Economist Ferdinando Guerra, who helped author the LAEDC report, said that allowing Taiwan to join the partnership would create jobs and boost activity at Los Angeles ports.
"Ultimately, for our region," he said, "the impact will be positive, though maybe not necessarily for other parts of the country."