Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Free-trade port proposal earns accolades

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

A member of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions throws a pie on a picture of a legislator during a protest outside the Legislature yesterday, demanding that one regulation of the Statute Governing the Establishment and Management of Free Trade Ports be amended to safeguard local and foreign laborers' interests.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Industrialists and academics yesterday were delighted over the passage of the Statute Governing the Establishment and Management of Free Trade Ports (自由貿易港區設置及管理條例) in the legislature, saying that setting up free-trade ports will help Taiwan become a major commercial transportation hub in Asia.

"The free-trade port [statute] is a great help to our industrial sector," said Rock Hsu (許勝雄), chairman of the Importers and Exporters Association of Taipei (台北市進出口公會). "It'll advance the efficient flow of goods and attract more businesses to use Taiwan as a transfer or processing point."

According to the free-trade port legislation, foreign imports can be stored or processed before being reshipped to a third country or area without going through customs inspection.

In addition, businesses based there will be free from tariffs, commodity taxes, business tax, tobacco and alcohol tax and port service fees.

Currently Kaohsiung Port and CKS International Airport are two ports that fit the bill to be trans-formed into free-trade ports. Mailiao in Yunlin County is reportedly intent on applying for free-trade port status as well.

George Lin (林添貴), deputy secretary general of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce (工商協進會) said he is expecting job opportunities provided by the planned free-trade ports will help alleviate local jobless problems.

"Under the regulation, at least 60 percent of the employees in free-trade ports will be local workers," Lin said.

The free-trade port plan is two-fold.

"Taiwan will not only be a transportation hub for goods, but also a processing center," said Chiang Yu-sheng (姜渝生), associate professor of urban planning at National Cheng Kung University who recently completed a study on the free-trade port project.

But the new free-trade port law does is not a free-for-all.

The law forbids Chinese companies from setting up shop in free-trade ports, and stipulates all cross-strait trade activities must still be governed by the Statute Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例).

However, Chiang asserted that the restrictions on Chinese investment and Chinese businesspeople's activities should be scrapped.

"China is becoming the largest manufactory base in the world, how can we leave out such a competitive trading partner?" he said.

Another research fellow, Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫), division director of the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (台經院), also said China could be a big patron for Taiwan's yet-to-be-established free-trade ports due to its geographic location.

"Taiwan can only solicit firms that open factories in countries geographically close to Taiwan as companies in other more distant regions have already made use of free-trade ports in other countries," Kung said.

Singapore manages shipments from Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries, while Amsterdam's port is the most important gateway for European goods, Kung said.

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