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Vice president touts benefits of Taiwan-ASEAN free trade pact

Taiwan News, Taipei

Vice president touts benefits of Taiwan-ASEAN free trade pact

By Steve Bercic, Central News Agency

11 October 2008

Vice President Vincent Siew said Saturday that a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would be mutually beneficial in terms of economic development as well as regional peace and stability.

Speaking at the 1st Taiwan-East Asia Conference on Free Trade Agreement held in Taipei City, Siew said that Taiwan will assume an "attitude of practical participation" in striving for its goal of being included in regional economic integration.

Siew said regional economic integration is a global trend and that major economies, including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and India, want to enter into FTAs with ASEAN to create a stronger and larger economic entity and boost their mutual economic and trade relations.

The vice president said Taiwan expects that under the ASEAN charter and by means of a practical model, it can begin dialogue and cooperation with the organization and proceed to meaningful participation in "ASEAN + N" regional dialogue and negotiations.

Though Taiwan has actively sought to advance the process of working toward a free trade agreement with ASEAN, it has encountered political obstacles on the international stage toward this end and been marginalized to an extent, Siew said.

He urged China to change its "rigid policies" in this regard,pointing out that Taiwan would also like to open communication channels with Beijing to reduce unnecessary misunderstandings and discuss a possible FTA between the two sides.

Siew said that it is worth noting that ASEAN foreign ministers in a meeting in July all welcomed statements on an improvement in cross-Taiwan Strait relations.

On pushing for Taiwan’s inclusion in talks on regional economic integration, Siew cited various statistics to illustrate the importance of bilateral trade between Taiwan and countries in East and Southeast Asia.

He noted that seven of Taiwan’s top 10 trading partners are located in these regions. According to Siew, Taiwan’s trade with major ASEAN countries reached US$60 billion for 2007, marking an increase of 17 percent over the previous year’s level.

The figure represented 12.8 percent of Taiwan’s total trade,surpassing the United States for third spot on the list, according to Siew.

He also pointed out that as of the end of 2007, total Taiwan investment in Southeast Asia had surpassed US$51.1 billion.

Arguing that a Taiwan-ASEAN free trade pact would be beneficial to both sides, Siew noted that Taiwan ranks as the third largest source of foreign investment in Thailand and Cambodia and the largest source in Vietnam, with investment amounting to US$1.8 billion in 2007 alone, up 630 percent over the previous year.

Taiwan investment in Singapore in 2007 reached US$1.2 billion, up 46 percent, with the figure for the Philippines rising an astronomical 878 percent to US$200 million, he added.

All these statistics clearly illustrate that Taiwan has brought much technological development and job opportunities to the region and that the importance of this bilateral cooperation has been increasing significantly, Siew said.

He further said that the improvement in cross-strait relations since the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in May of this year will help reduce the obstacles to Taiwan and ASEAN negotiating a free trade pact.

At the same time, he noted, Taiwan has been making preparations at home for the start of FTA talks with ASEAN by continuing to strengthen economic and trade contacts, establishing a special task force to lay the groundwork, planning more overseas offices in member states, and increasing the number of staff working on the "ASEAN + N" goal.

Siew stressed that Taiwan will use its geographical and transportation advantages to promote the development of peace and stability in the region and at the same time maintain its practical approach to achieving greater economic integration with the region to the benefit of all parties involved.

The Taiwan-East Asia FTA conference, held at the International Conference Hall of National Chenghi University’s Institute of International Relations, was organized by the institute as well as the Bureau of Foreign Trade under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.