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FTAs touted as economic panacea

Taipei Times, Taiwan

FTAs touted as economic panacea

MORE DIVERSIFICATION::One academic said that accelerating negotiations to sign FTAs with other nations would make it possible to avoid excessive reliance on the China market

By Amy Su / Staff Reporter

23 May 2011

The nation should seek to improve its economic performance by encouraging local enterprises to enhance their research and development and marketing capabilities, and stepping up the signing of free-trade agreements (FTA) with major global trading nations, economists said yesterday.

These efforts would help to reduce unemployment, while lifting the average salary for local employees, an indicator that is more important than GDP growth, they added.

“Taiwan’s economic growth was over 10 percent last year, but the public did not feel that optimistic because of unstable employment conditions, which the government has ignored for several years,” Taiwan Thinktank (台灣智庫) chairman Chen Po-chih (陳博志) told a media briefing.

In March, the nation’s unemployment rate remained at 4.48 percent, the lowest level since October 2008, when the jobless rate was 4.37 percent, according to the latest data from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS).

However, the jobless rate would have been as high as 5.88 percent in March if the those who were unemployed, but had given up searching for a job were included, DGBAS data showed.

Although the government had said signing an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China would encourage local and international -companies to stay and invest in Taiwan, the impact has been limited, said Chiou Jiunn-rong (邱俊榮), an economics professor at National Central University.

“Currently, manufacturing firms in Taiwan continue to move to China, further lowering the number of positions available for local jobseekers,” Chiou told the media briefing.

Taiwan’s manufacturing sector needed to focus more on higher value-added inputs, such as research and development as well as marketing, instead of technology-oriented capabilities that are easily substituted, Chiou said.

“These high value-added -abilities would increase the competitiveness of employees, making more companies willing to stay in Taiwan and offer higher salaries,” he said.

Based on the latest salary data from DGBAS, local workers earned an average of NT$36,069 (US$1,253.27) a month in February, up 1.47 percent from a year earlier.

Hua Chia-cheng (花佳正), a research fellow at Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (台灣經濟研究院), said the branding experience of Acer Inc (宏碁) and HTC Corp (宏達電) offered important lessons for local firms.

Emerging industries — in the fields of green energy, biotechnology and electric vehicles — should focus on brand-name building and work with companies in other emerging markets as part of the long-term development of global brands, Hua said.

In addition, the government should also speed up negotiations to sign FTAs with some of the major global economies, thereby preventing excessive dependence on the China market since the ECFA took effect in January, Hua said.

“This offers an important chance for Taiwan to reorganize its industrial structure, further maintaining the nation’s competitiveness,” he said.