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Talk of the day — Taiwan’s next FTA target: ASEAN

Focus Taiwan News

Talk of the day — Taiwan’s next FTA target: ASEAN

6 August 2010

By Sofia Wu

Local society in general has hailed the imminent start of talks with Singapore on signing an economic cooperation agreement as a breakthrough for Taiwan in its pursuit of better foreign trade relations after decades of being overshadowed by China.

Beijing has long used its diplomatic clout to block Taiwan from signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with its major trading partners. After Taiwan and China signed their own economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) in late June, Beijing signaled that it was finally willing to let Taiwan negotiate trade pacts with other countries under the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Government officials said major member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be the next target for similar FTA-like deals.

"We believe that via Singapore, we can strengthen our economic and trade ties with the 10 ASEAN members, not to mention a continued focus on South Asia, " said Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang at a news conference Thursday on the plan to start trade pact talks with Singapore.

The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of the topic:

United Daily News:

A delegation of think tank scholars have visited several Southeast Asian nations recently at the behest of the President Ma Ying-jeou administration to explore their interest in opening talks with Taiwan on FTA-like economic cooperation accords.

The delegation found that while all the countries approached showed keen interest in signing FTAs with Taiwan, they also expressed concerns about China’s possible reaction to such a move.

According to government sources, Beijing would not tolerate seeing its diplomatic allies sign FTAs with Taiwan before concluding its own deal with Taiwan.

Since the "ASEAN Plus One (China) " free trade bloc already took effect early this year, the sources said, Beijing is no longer expected to obstruct Taiwan’s bid to strike similar deals with ASEAN member countries.

In addition to Singapore, the sources said, the government hopes to conclude FTA-like economic cooperation agreements with at least two other ASEAN countries, with Malaysia and the Philippines topping the "wish list."

China reacted carefully to a joint statement from Taiwan and Singapore on exploring the feasibility of a bilateral trade pact, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu urging "relevant countries" to handle the issue "cautiously."

Meanwhile, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a brief statement carried by the Xinhua news agency that it believes Singapore will abide by the "one China" principle and appropriately handle economic and trade relations with Taiwan.

The Presidential Office issued a statement late Thursday praising China for not interrupting Taiwan’s bid to pursue a trade agreement with Singapore.

"It’s a practical move that is not only in line with the interests of Taiwan but also is helpful to building peace and co-prosperity on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, " presidential spokesman Lo Chih-chiang said.

Political analysts said the statements from the Chinese and Taiwanese authorities show that both sides have expressed goodwill, but political hurdles remain in the way. Therefore, they said, it will take time for the two sides to build up mutual trust before they can address any political disputes. (Aug.6, 2010).

China Times:

Yang said that starting free trade pact talks with Singapore is a good start in Taiwan’s efforts to be included in the regional economic integration.

"From a broader viewpoint, Taiwan cannot continue to be isolated in the face of the mounting wave of regional economic integration, " Yang said, adding that after the ECFA, Taiwan needs to pick up the pace of concluding economic cooperation deals with its trading partners to sustain the development of its export-driven economy. (Aug.6, 2010).

Liberty Times:

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party said the KMT administration should focus its efforts on negotiating free trade agreements with Taiwan’s major trading partners such as the United States, Japan and the European Union rather than Singapore.

Two-way trade between Taiwan and Singapore stood at US$13.42 billion in 2009, accounting for 3.55 percent of Taiwan’s overall foreign trade.

DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an said singing a free trade pact might lead to an influx of goods from ASEAN countries via Singapore and that the government should not ignore this threat while playing up the positive effects of signing such a pact.