Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 10 News List

ASEAN should talk to Taiwan about an FTA, minister says

REUTERS , KUALA LUMPUR

Taiwan has told ASEAN that it wants talks on a free trade agreement (FTA), a move likely to be blocked by China which is in the middle of its own negotiations.

"I would like to propose that ASEAN take the next logical step, to agree to form an ASEAN-Taiwan FTA," Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Ruey-long (陳瑞隆), told a business forum held in the Malaysian capital.

Sidelined

Chen said on the sidelines he hoped for an agreement within a year, and did not see any reason why China should object as both countries were members of the WTO.

"The FTA is about economics and trade. China should not try to politicize this sort of agreement, that would be unfortunate," Chen said.

The move follows last year's agreement between China and ASEAN to start talks on creating the world's largest free-trade bloc.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Blocked by China

Most of Taiwan's efforts to join other global trade groups have been blocked by China. Experts doubt if Beijing would change its previous policies, adding it was difficult to tell how ASEAN nations would respond to Taiwan, which has invested US$42.2 billion in the region.

"Taiwan has sent messages to the ASEAN governments but we don't know their answer," said Wu Rong-yi (吳榮義), president of Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.

Mirzan Mahathir, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute of Malaysia president, said the process of trying to start an ASEAN trade deal with Taiwan would not be easy.

"I guess it will go through the normal turbulence that Taiwan and China usually face in these matters," he said.

Two-way trade between Tai-wan and ASEAN nations reached US$32.4 billion last year, or 13.35 percent of Taiwan's total global trade.

"For Taiwanese investors, ASEAN as a whole is our second largest destination for outbound investment only after China," Chen said.

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