Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 10 News List

First round of FTA talks with Nicaragua finalized

FREE TRADE AGREEMENT Although some differences will have to be ironed out in the second round of talks, officials said a deal could be signed within eight months

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Officials from Taiwan and Nicara-gua yesterday wrapped up the first round of negotiations about a free trade agreement (FTA), saying they expect the talks can be completed in six to eight months.

"We are pleased to have made so much progress in such a short time ... we expect a very satisfactory growth of trade and investment between the two countries," Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆) told a press conference yesterday.

Chen, who led the Taiwanese delegation to the five-day talks, yesterday also signed a memorandum with Nicaraguan Vice Minister of Development, Industry and Commerce Alejandro Arguello.

The trade talks were divided into five categories, including market access; rules and procedures; investment and services; labor and environment; and cooperation on trade-related issues. In addition to common issues such as the elimination of tariffs and opening markets, the two sides also agreed to include e-commerce, environmental protection and labor rights in the talks, Chen said.

Experience gained from free trade negotiations with Panama enabled the talks with Nicaragua to proceed smoothly, making it possible that the FTA could be completed within five rounds, which would take about eight months, Chen said.

Taiwan and Panama, the nation's first free trade partner, inked an FTA in August last year.

However, Chen said, Taiwan and Nicaragua still have different views on dispute settlement, the origin of goods and market access, which will be the focus of the second round of talks scheduled for the end of November in Miami, Florida.

Chen said he hopes an FTA with Nicaragua will encourage agreements with other Central American countries such as Honduras and Guatemala, which expressed their willingness to sign FTAs with Taiwan when Premier Yu Shyi-kun visited there last month.

The deal with Nicaragua will also help facilitate investment by Taiwanese companies in the region, he said, adding that local investment seemed to concentrate too much on certain countries, which results in fierce competition and diluted margins.

Furthermore, companies investing in Nicaragua will be able to take advantage of the economic integration of the six Central American countries, which is 93 percent complete, Chen said.

Arguello said that Nicaragua also looks forward to increasing its exports of agricultural products to Asia via the FTA with Taiwan.

Nicaragua is Taiwan's 96th-largest trading partner, with a bilateral trade volume of US$24 million for the first seven months of the year.

Nicaragua has signed FTAs with the US, Mexico and some Central American countries, and is engaged in negotiations with Canada and Panama.

The next major FTA target for Nicaragua is the EU, which Arguello said would hopefully ink a pact in 2006.

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