Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Business leaders support direct links

ECONOMIC IMPERATIVES Regardless of the cross-strait political situation, common sense dictates that direct transport links must be opened, local and foreign analysts say

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Business leaders yesterday welcomed President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) pledge to create direct transport links across the Taiwan Strait by the end of next year, but said that the links should not undermine the nation's security.

"I'd be happy to see the ban on cross-strait traffic lifted, if the project can really be carried out," said Tsai Horng-ming (蔡宏明), deputy secretary general of Chinese National Federation of Industries (全國工總).

While the policymakers should also map out a set of meticulous supporting measures for the links, "the opening-up policy is a must in view of the rapidly growing business activities across the strait," Tsai said.

Currently, there are approximately 500,000 Taiwanese business-people in China, according to the Mainland Affairs Council. For the first half of the year, government-approved China-bound investments by Taiwanese businesses totaled US$5.12 billion, surging 233.27 percent from a year ago.

George Lin (林添貴), deputy secretary-general of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce (工商協進會), also said the president's three-stage direct links plan will meet businessmen's greatest desire.

One concern Tsai raised is how to keep Taiwanese products competitive after cheaper Chinese imports flood in.

"I think a considerable portion of Taiwanese consumer goods, textile and electric appliances will be replaced by Chinese ones if no restrictions are imposed on cross-strait shipments," Tsai said.

For the first five months of the year, Chinese goods exported to Taiwan totaled US$4 billion, making it the the third-largest country-of-origin for goods imported to Taiwan, according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Foreign investors in Taiwan are also glad to see a breakthrough in the cross-strait relationship and hope foreign shippers can participate in the cross-strait transport business.

"We've suggested opening direct links -- especially in the cargo sector -- for years," said Guy Wittich, CEO of the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ECCT). "China is now the biggest international cargo market. Taiwan should be part of it, and can largely benefit from it after free-trade ports are established."

Wittich said foreign companies would also like to operate cross-strait transport businesses, but the government has not given a concrete response regarding the issue yet. Nonetheless, China's airline authorities have said they don't want to open the air-cargo business to overseas carriers.

While opinion polls have indicated public dissatisfaction with Chen's economic policies, "the longer-term economic benefits from a more efficient cross-strait transport scheme makes direct links not a question of if, but when," said Christopher Smith, an aviation industry analyst at Primasia Securities Co in Taipei.

The government said in the Economic Development Advisory Conference (經發會) in August, 2001 that it would start to push for direct links. But it has yet to implement the policy.

However, recent cross-strait developments have paved the way for a major breakthrough in transport links, Smith said in a report issued last month.

On Oct. 17, former Chinese vice premier Qian Qi-chen (錢其琛) was quoted as saying that Taiwan need not accept the "one China" principle as a pre-condition for direct links, while the Mainland Affairs Council said last November that direct transport links are inevitable.

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