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Philippines, Singapore FTAs to follow ECFA: report

China Post | Friday, May 21, 2010

Philippines, Singapore FTAs to follow ECFA: report

The China Post news staff and CNA

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has made strides in negotiating free trade agreements with the Philippines and Singapore, the United Evening News reported yesterday, citing an unnamed high-level source within the government.

The source was cited as saying if Taiwan signed an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China in June, the signing of FTAs with other countries would soon follow.

The source said while Taiwan is currently negotiating an ECFA with China, it is simultaneously holding talks with certain nations on signing FTAs.

And those nations are the Philippines and Singapore, the source said.

The source said Ma’s taking over as the convener of a government FTA taskforce indicates progress has been made in FTA talks with other nations.

National security officials, however, are not willing to characterize the status of Taiwan’s talks with the Philippines and Singapore, as the issue is highly sensitive, the paper reported.

Exposure of the talks early may add uncertainties to the situation, national security officials said.

Singapore foreign ministry officials have said that signing an ECFA with China may not necessarily be the precondition for the signing of an FTA between Singapore and Taiwan.

The signing of a Singapore-Taiwan FTA hinges on whether President Ma can handle cross-strait relations well, the officials said.

In a separate report, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Vice Chairman Liu Te-shun said yesterday that a fourth round of talks might be needed for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to hammer out the terms of ECFA.

Liu made the forecast even before a planned third round of ECFA talks have taken place.

Liu, however, stressed at a regular news conference that neither side has changed the goal of completing the signing of the all-encompassing trade pact in the first half of the year.

His remarks came after Tang Wei, head of the Department of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs under China’s Ministry of Commerce, concluded an unannounced visit to Taipei a day earlier.

Tang was believed to be in Taiwan May 17-19 to negotiate the contents of the "early harvest" program that will form the backbone of the agreement.

However, as the two sides failed to announce after Tang’s visit the timing and venue for a third round of ECFA talks, speculation arose that no consensus had been reached on each side’s "early harvest" list of goods and services to be subject to tariff concessions or easier market access terms under the pact.

Liu confirmed that many problems still need to be resolved before an agreement can be signed.

"While each side has clearly expressed its stance on the agreement’s content and direction, they have yet to reach a consensus on the items to be included in the ’early harvest’ program," Liu explained.

On Premier Wu Den-yih’s statement in an interview Wednesday with Reuters that Taiwan’s "early harvest" list will comprise about 300 products and services, Liu said the time is not yet ripe for the two sides to exchange their lists.

"As both sides remain divided on the products or industries to be included for tariff exemptions or reductions, or for better market access terms, it would be premature to arrange a third round of ECFA talks at the moment," Liu said.

He further said Tang did not discuss the timing for the third round of ECFA talks during his just-concluded visit.

The first round of ECFA talks took place Jan. 26 in Beijing and the second round was held in northern Taiwan’s Taoyuan County from April 30 to May 1.

The third round was originally planned to have taken place in China in early May, but the plan did not materialize.

"Arduous efforts are needed to accomplish the goal of concluding the ECFA deal before the end of June," Liu added.

 source: China Post