Thu, Dec 30, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Ho revises growth rate

RAISING EXPECTATIONS The minister of economic affairs said that the nation's GDP growth rate could hit 5 percent, and also touted reform efforts

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation's GDP growth rate should rise to about 5 percent next year, underpinned by inbound investment and consumer spending, Minister of Economic Affairs Ho Mei-yueh (何美玥) said yesterday.

The ministry's economic growth target is higher than the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics' 4.36 percent forecast, which the Cabinet-level agency made last month.

"This is our goal for next year, and I think it should not be hard to attain," Ho said at a year-end press conference yesterday, saying that inbound investment, which includes both local and foreign capital, has totaled NT$1.4 trillion this year.

The nation is expected to see its economic growth slow down next year, dragged by fluctuating crude oil and raw-material prices, rising interest rates and China's macro-economic control.

But Ho remained optimistic about the economic outlook next year, saying investment, exports and imports, and industrial production will still grow steadily, only at a slower pace.

The 53-year-old Ho was appointed to serve as the nation's economic tsar in May, replacing Lin Yi-fu (林義夫). At yesterday's briefing, she outlined the ministry's major tasks next year, including upgrading industrial competitiveness, exploiting target markets, eliminating trade barriers by signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries, stabilizing water supplies and exploring new energy sources.

The ministry will also put more effort into developing the automobile and telecommunications industries to churn out NT$605.6 billion and NT$1.05 trillion in output value respectively, Ho said.

The semiconductor and flat-panel display manufacturing sectors are expected to create output of over NT$1 trillion each this year, she said.

In securing FTA pacts, Ho said that -- after establishing an FTA with Panama -- Paraguay, Nicaragua and Guatemala are in talks with Taiwan and may become free trade partners next year. Other targets are the US, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand.

"A Taiwan-US FTA is especially important," Ho said. To achieve this goal, the ministry will try to resolve issues that concern the US most, such as market access to the telecommunications, rice and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as intellectual property protection, she said.

Another crucial mission is organizational restructuring, which is set to enhance administrative efficiency in all areas, Ho said. According to the draft plan, the ministry will be retitled "the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Commerce," and will supervise a more succinct framework that has the duties of its component agencies more clearly delineated.

The new organizational structure -- which will take effect after approval by the Cabinet and the Legislature next year -- is not expected to affect ongoing policies, such as the privatization of state-run enterprises.

Ho cited the ministry's plans to sell a 3.5 percent stake in China Steel Corp (中鋼) as an example of this process.

The ministry currently holds a 23.5 percent stake in China Steel. As the legislature has reached a resolution that requires the government to keep at least 20 percent of China Steel's shares, only 3.5 percent of the government-held stocks will be released to the public, said Wu Fong-sheng (吳豐盛), executive director of the Commission of National Corporations.

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