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Vice economics minister calls for new procedures in FTA talks

Focus Taiwan News Channel

Vice economics minister calls for new procedures in FTA talks

By Sophia Yeh and Lilian Wu

15 July 2013

Taipei, July 15 (CNA) Vice Economic Affairs Minister Cho Shih-chao agreed Monday with suggestions that a set of standard operating procedures be established in negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) to strike a balance between confidentiality and open information.

The government has come under criticism for not being more transparent in negotiating a controversial service pact agreement it signed with China on June 21, and many business groups complained they were left out of the deliberations.

On suggestions of striking a balance between confidentiality and transparent information, and even that standard procedures be developed, Cho said, "this is a very good suggestion, and we’ll move in that direction."

Critics of the service trade pact said there was no need for the government to be so tight-lipped, with Yen Ching-chang, a former permanent representative of Taiwan to the World Trade Organization, asserting that "no other countries deal with FTA talks as if they are secrets."

But Cho said all countries, including the United States, treat FTA negotiations with other countries as "a secret," citing an economic cooperation agreement signed with New Zealand last week as an example.

During the negotiations, which began in May 2012, New Zealand asked for absolute confidentiality, and the New Zealand government also asked businesses and parliamentarians it consulted on the pact to keep quiet about the potential deal’s contents.

Cho said the United States does the same when negotiating an FTA to avoid revealing its bottom line.

The government did communicate with some businesses while negotiating the service trade pact with China, Cho said, but it could not communicate with all of them because of their sheer number and could not hold large public hearings because of confidentiality issues.

The official said the ministry also communicated with legislative committees and even held a closed-door meeting.

"Our approach was actually in line with international practices," he contended.