Fri, Dec 31, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Taiwan should pursue free trade deals, council says

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The best strategy for Taiwan to weather the impact of being excluded from ASEAN's expansion plan is to ink free trade agreements (FTAs) with nations that are friendly to Taiwan, Hu Sheng-cheng (胡勝正), chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), said yesterday.

"Taiwan is stepping up its efforts to sign free trade pacts with other nations, including the US, which is the most important of all," Hu told a year-end press conference in Tainan.

In addition to the US, Taiwan is conducting free trade talks with Singapore, Nicaragua and Japan to promote its international trade relations.

China, which boycotts Taiwan's participation in the regional free trade zone, is behind the initiative to enlarge ASEAN from the 10 original nations to include China, Japan and South Korea.

The WTO framework will be another channel for Taiwan to formulate trilateral trade relations with other economic entities, Hu said.

Meanwhile, Hu yesterday reiterated that the domestic economy is expected to see 4.93 percent growth next year. This may rise to 5 percent if the negative impact of future economic uncertainties is mitigated.

According to Hu, these uncertainties include crude oil prices, which he expects will drop to US$35 per barrel next year, and whether a soft landing in China is attainable next year after the country's implementation of measures to cool its overheated economy.

Hu added that Taiwan will put its economic focus on developing the service sector, which currently accounts for 69 percent of the nation's GDP.

Taiwan is well-positioned to develop its financial-service sector into a regional financial hub next year, he said.

He further predicted that the nation's consumer price index will fall below 2 percent next year, dismissing worries about inflationary pressures.

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