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Taiwan hopes to sign cross-strait trade pact as soon as possible
Central News Agency
Page 1
2009-10-16 12:00 AM
Taiwan hopes to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) , similar to a free trade agreement, with China as soon as possible, Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang said Thursday.

"We expect the proposed ECFA accord can be signed next year, but if the goal can be reached earlier, it would be more than welcome, " Shih said, while fielding questions at a Legislative Yuan committee meeting.

Taiwan's government has argued that an ECFA agreement with China should be signed as soon as possible to reduce the impact on Taiwanese businesses once economic integration of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comes into force next year.

After the China-ASEAN free trade agreement takes effect on Jan. 1, 2010, petrochemical products, textiles, automobile parts and machinery exports from ASEAN states to China will enjoy tariff-free treatment, which government officials said will seriously undermine the competitiveness of similar products from Taiwan.

According to Shih, officials from both sides of the Taiwan Strait will hold a fourth round of informal talks on the ECFA deal late this month and formal talks are expected to get underway later this year.

An unidentified official from Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs said last week that the two sides have held three rounds of informal talks on the proposed ECFA deal and one more round of informal talks will be held later this month for them to exchange their "early harvest" lists. "When that happens, the lists of industries or services that each side will open for immediate tariff concessions or more liberal trade terms will become clear," the official said at the time.

Yesterday Shih said Taiwan has not yet fully finalized its "early harvest" list, but he added that the number of items to be listed will be fewer than 1,000.

During the previous rounds of informal talks, Shih said, Taiwanese officials clearly told their Chinese counterparts that Taiwan will not open its labor market to Chinese workers nor will it expand the list of agricultural items that are now allowed to enter the Taiwanese market.

On legislators' concerns that the ECFA, similar to free trade agreements, may adversely affect Taiwan, Shih said the pact will generate more positive effects than negative ones.

"Signing a cross-strait ECFA will definitely help boost Taiwan's gross domestic product (GDP) and create more job openings, " Shih said, adding that it will bring not only short-term gains but also long-term benefits.

Acknowledging that the proposed accord will adversely impact some labor-intensive industries, Shih said the government will come up with special programs to help makers in disadvantaged industries, such as towels, bedroom facilities and hosiery, to transform, upgrade or switch to other lines of business.

Critics of the plan to sign the free-trade agreement with China have also expressed fears it could lead to Taiwan being more economically dependent on China, which they said could jeopardize Taiwan's sovereignty and independence.

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