Vice economics minister quizzed over FTA plans

Taipei Times, Taiwan

Vice economics minister quizzed over FTA plans

By Shih Hsiu-chuan / Staff reporter

23 December 2010

Some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers yesterday challenged officials over the government’s post-Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) plan to seek free-trade agreements (FTAs) with as many countries as possible.

After the EFCA was signed in late June, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) pledged to reach FTAs with other countries, saying the ECFA would boost the chance for the country to complete negotiations on other trade pacts.

Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Francis Liang (梁國新) told the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee that the government was seeking to reach FTA deals with the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the EU and Southeast Asian nations. Liang and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) attended the committee meeting to brief lawmakers on the process of FTA negotiations with the nation’s trading partners.

“It seems that we are trying to sign FTAs with every country,” KMT Legislator Shuai Hua-ming (帥化民) said, questioning the government’s “lack of strategy” in setting its priority targets.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this in principle, but rather that Taiwan would benefit from signing FTAs with the countries that are its important trading partners either in terms of trade volume or spatial proximity in the region,” Liang told Shuai.

KMT Legislator Liao Wan-ru (廖婉如) questioned whether the government had policies in place to assist local industries to adapt to challenges they face as the nation moves toward more trade liberalization.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said the government had “accomplishing nothing” as far as FTA negotiations as it heads into the latter half of Ma’s term in office, while the former DPP administration was able to negotiate four FTAs with five countries when it was in power.

However, Liang said those four FTAs, signed with diplomatic allies Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, had achieved only limited economic benefits because the combined trading volume with the five nations accounted for only 0.187 percent of Taiwan’s total trade.

In response to a question from DPP Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲), Liang said the negotiations with Singapore on trade liberalization were proceeding faster than with any other country.

Taiwan and Singapore announced last week that they would begin formal negotiations on a trade liberalization deal early next year after they each had conducted their own feasibility studies and concluded that an agreement would provide mutual benefits. The two countries began their studies in August.

KMT Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said the government should include Taiwan’s participation in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnerships (TPP), a major initiative seeking to create a free-trade area of the Asia-Pacific, on the agenda of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement talks with the US. Those talks are scheduled to resume next month.

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