Mon, Jul 21, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Panama, Taiwan set to hold trade pact's final talks

STAFF WRITER WITH AFP , PANAMA CITY

Panama and Taiwan are set to hold a fifth and final round of negotiations on a free trade agreement on August 10 in Taipei, a Panamanian official involved in the talks said.

"Ninety percent of the text is agreed," after seven months of talks, said Panama's deputy minister for international trade Meliton Arrocha.

The final version is to be signed on August 28. It then goes to each country's respective legislatures for ratification.

"It will open the door for Panamanian goods to enter the gigantic Asian market," Arrocha said.

Arrocha's Taiwanese counterpart, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆), said last month that the August negotiations will focus on market access of industrial goods, rules of origin and services.

The free trade pact also promotes bilateral investments. Certain key Panamanian products including beef, chicken, pork and tropical fruits are protected. Chen said the two sides have discussed tariff reductions on about 1,500 agricultural imports during a recent meeting held in Los Angeles, California last month.

Panama's only other free-trade pact is with El Salvador, but it is also conducting talks with Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Panama will probably become the first nation to sign an FTA with Taiwan by the end of the year, Chen said.

The two countries issued a joint statement last August to make talks aimed at a free trade agreement a priority.

Imports of Taiwanese goods in Panama amount to US$25 million annually, while Panamanian exports to Taiwan are more than US$11 million.

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