Wed, Nov 12, 2003 - Page 10 News List

WTO did not help cross-strait trade: report

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Following their accession to the WTO over a year ago, relations between Taiwan and China are stagnant with no sign of relief in the short term, a group of researchers said yesterday.

"We found that both sides of the Taiwan Strait operating under the umbrella of the WTO haven't changed the nature of cross-strait relations in an economic sense," said Steven Goldstein, director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop under Harvard University's Fairbank Center.

"In the political sense, the optimism generated by their accession was even more unwarranted," he said.

Goldstein made his remarks during a press gathering in Taipei. Joined by a panel of academics from Taiwan, the US, Australia and China, Goldstein is currently working on a project that focuses on how Taiwan and China's accession to the WTO would change cross-strait relations.

The research group is expected to publish a book next year.

Goldstein, the project's leader, said Taiwan's goal to enter the WTO was obviously to increase the nation's international profile. But the fact is that China does not want to deal with Taiwan in any international organization, because that will internationalize what China called the "Taiwan question" in the political sense, he said.

The Harvard professor said such a result is not in accordance with enormous optimism in the West, which deemed the WTO a neutral international forum through which an evolution in cross-strait relations could be brought about.

Another researcher said the cross-strait political impasse has started to undercut other economic ties.

Though the trade relations between the two sides are getting closer, "Taiwan merely realized 15 percent of potential trade with China because of the restrictions imposed by the Taiwan government," said Peter Drysdale, professor of the Australian National University.

Currently, Taiwan prohibits about 2,000 imported items from China, ranging from agricultural goods to electronics products. Drysdale said the embargo caused an 85 percent loss on potential business that Taiwan could have gained from China. If Taiwan lifts its ban, the nation can boost its income by importing cheap materials from China and re-export the products to other countries after adding value to them, Drysdale said.

Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆), however, said Taiwan has already benefited from the rise of China's economy.

China has overtaken the US as Taiwan's largest export partner since November last year. For the first eight months of the year, goods exported from Taiwan to China amounted to US$30.55 billion, accounting for 33.69 percent of the nation's total exports, government statistics showed.

Nevertheless, project academics suggested the government speed up its liberalization efforts to comply with Taiwan's WTO obligations, as well as maintain its edge in the international community.

"One conclusion of the paper is that China's adherence to its WTO commitments not only makes it an enormous presence in the world economy, but also makes it lead the third wave of the Asian regional economy," Goldstein said.

"Taiwan is in danger of missing the wave, as China is working hard to keep Taiwan out of regional trade," he said.

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