■ Free-trade ports established
The Executive Yuan yesterday granted status as free-trade ports to Keelung Harbor and Kaohsiung Port, which are expected to start operations in September this year and January next year respectively. Hsu Tsai-li (許財利), Keelung City mayor, said yesterday that Keelung's free-trade port will create over 2,400 jobs after it starts operating. Authorities at the two harbors estimated that the two ports will increase investment by NT$4.56 billion (US$138 million) and will increase production value by at least NT$1.9 billion annually. The Executive Yuan announced implementation of the Regulations Governing Applications for the Establishment of Free Ports (自由貿易港區申請設置辦法) in September last year.
■ More Matsu flights urged
Matsu authorities have urged the sole carrier flying between the outlying island and Taiwan proper to open routes to destinations in central and southern Taiwan as soon as possible. The authorities recently made a request to Taipei-based UNI Airways Corp (立榮) -- the sole carrier approved by the Civil Aeronautics Administration to operate routes between Matsu and Taiwan -- to open Matsu-Taichung and Matsu-Kaohsuing routes by April 1. UNI Airways Chairman Cheng Kuang-yung (鄭光遠) made a promise during a November visit to Matsu that the two routes would open by the middle of last month, but so far nothing has happened. According to Matsu authorities, the postponement of the two routes has caused discontent and misunderstanding among Matsu's people and among many businesspeople based in China, who have long hoped for the routes to be established, especially since direct trade and transport services were set up in January 2001.
■ 43 companies approved for park
Officials with the Central Taiwan Science Park Administration said yesterday that 43 companies have been approved to set up shop in the first phase of the park's operations, with a total investment amount of NT$428.1 billion. Since the park is not yet big enough to accommodate the more than 300 applicants, the Taichung County government has mapped out a second phase of the park to be built in a neighboring area. AU Optronics Corp (友達光電), the first enterprise to enroll, has already gone ahead with setting up facilities and estimates that it will begin mass production at the end this year.
■ Wan Hai denies reports
Wan Hai Lines Ltd (萬海航運), Taiwan's third-biggest shipping concern by market value, denied a newspaper report that the company may buy a stake in China Airlines (華航), the nation's largest air carrier, saying it is focused on marine transportation. A Chinese-language newspaper reported over the weekend that the government may sell a 30-percent stake in China Airlines to Wan Hai. "We don't own any shares in China Airlines, and we have never discussed buying into China Airlines," Wan Hai senior vice president Jason Lee (李炫宏) said. "We are focused on marine shipping," Lee said. State-run China Aviation Development Foundation (航發會) holds a 71-percent stake in China Airlines. No companies have approached the foundation about buying the stake to date.
■ NT dollar drops
In line with a weak yen, the New Taiwan dollar yesterday traded lower against its US counterpart on the Taipei foreign exchange market. The local currency dropped NT$0.002 to close at NT$33.403, with a turnover of US$516 million.