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Singapore offers FTA pact

China Post, Taiwan

Singapore offers FTA pact

3 April 2008

The China Post news staff

President-elect Ma Ying-jeou has expressed his wish to resume talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) with Singapore under the name the island uses at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Taiwan joined the WTO in 2002 under the name "Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu Customs Territory." Ma, who will be inaugurated on May 20, said after his poll win on March 22 that he wanted to restart free trade talks with Singapore.

The city-state has signed free trade pacts with several countries, including the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India. It is Taiwan’s key to the ASEAN community.

Taiwan’s FTA discussions with Singapore, which started after Chen Shui-bian’s election as president in 2000, stalled when he insisted on signing the FTA as a political entity. So far, Taiwan has had no FTA with any leading trade nation. Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement Friday: "FTAs with customs territories such as Taiwan are permissible under WTO rules."

Referring to the stalled discussions, the MFA added: "There were some preliminary discussions in 2001, but they ceased when the Chen Shui-bian administration tried to go beyond the WTO framework and politicized the issue.

"There have been no discussions since then. Furthermore, many developments under the Chen Shui-bian administration have since caused serious strains in cross-strait relations," hinting Beijing’s opposition to Singapore’s FTA pact with Taiwan.

Ma’s election has changed it all.

Besides negotiating an FTA with Singapore, Ma has also proposed that Taiwan and China discuss an FTA.

"China has not rejected this," the MFA statement noted.

"If Taiwan and the mainland are able to make progress on an FTA and cross-strait relations improve, there will be many possibilities for enhanced economic cooperation between Singapore and Taiwan, provided that economic matters are not politicized."

Taiwan lost its United Nations seat to China in 1971 and is recognized diplomatically by only 23 countries, mainly small and developing nations in Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.