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EU-Taiwan FTA possible in two years: EU parliamentarian

Focus Taiwan News Channel

EU-Taiwan FTA possible in two years: EU parliamentarian

16 June 2011

By Nancy Liu, CNA staff reporter

A free trade agreement (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and Taiwan could be sealed in about two years time, a visiting Member of the European Parliament (MEP) said Wednesday in Taiwan.

The Dutch parliamentarian told the CNA that while FTA negotiations were always complicated and painstaking, if both sides worked hard enough, they could reach an agreement within twenty-four months.

Han van Baalen, who is also vice chairman of the EP-Taiwan Friendship Group and president of Liberal International, was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit Taiwan for four days, starting June 13.

Van Baalen, a strong advocate of Taiwan’s active participation in international affairs, said he was worried that if the negotiations did not begin soon, Taiwan’s economic influence would be severely threatened by the neighboring countries of South Korea and Japan.

South Korea and the EU sealed an FTA last year and Japan is set to begin policy discussions with the EU, possibly in September.

"If Taiwan is left out, you would be in a negative position because produce and products from South Korea and Japan would come easier into the European market, and maybe cheaper," van Baalen said.

The parliamentarian said he expected the EU-Taiwan talks to get off the ground in 2012 but he identified some potential "stumbling blocks" that could hinder or delay the negotiation process.

Some of these issues are the exclusion or inclusion of certain trade items and reaching consensus on matters such as tariffs, legislation, trade barriers and security checks, he said.

"These things take time," he said, noting that it took South Korea about five years to conclude its agreement with the EU.

The negotiations between the EU and Taiwan might take less time, but if both sides work hard enough, two years is a very promising goal, he said.

The current preparatory stage involves the mapping of industries that would most likely be affected by the EU-Taiwan trade agreement, he said.

He indicated that the chances of the EU Parliament approving such an agreement were good.

"We should have the agreement, and I’m backed by the majority of the European Parliament."

Most EU parliamentarians support the idea of good relations with Taiwan, he said, citing as an example the parliament’s approval in 2010 of Taiwan’s inclusion in the EU visa waiver program.

"As many as 90 percent of the 736 members agreed to the visa waiver program with Taiwan, so there is a very large consensus in the EU Parliament that we should maintain a very good relationship with Taiwan."

As for China’s influence in the development of relations between the EU and Taiwan, he said it was not a factor.

"The visa waiver has nothing to do with Beijing. The free trade agreement has nothing to do with Beijing," he said. "Beijing, as it has started trade liberalization with Taiwan, is in no position to stop the EU from forming similar economic ties with Taiwan."

Taiwan’s policy to establish an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China was a "wise" one, he said.

"It is beneficial and helpful because Beijing looses the argument for opposing Taiwan forming such agreements with other countries, such as the U.S. and EU."

Asked whether the European Parliament planned to lift the arms embargo against China, van Baalen said "there is not a very big chance" of that happening because there are member states that oppose the propsal.

He said he personally was against such a move.

"As long as Beijing leaves open that the problems they have with Taiwan can be solved also in the end, in the last resort, by military means, I am against lifting the arms embargo, " he said. "It is a very serious thing that you direct missiles at a country with which you are negotiating freer trade."

China should look toward a more democratic system of rule, he suggested.

"Democracy is on the move and dictatorship is on the decease," he said. "The communist party should accept that the days of a one party state is something of a political stone age. It should end."