Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Steve Chen confident despite scandal

STAYING UPBEAT The Minister of Economic Affairs said he didn't foresee a negative economic impact but expressed concern about the possible impact of demonstrations

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆) yesterday expressed confidence in Taiwan's economic development, saying that corruption charges against first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) should have little impact in the foreseeable future.

Chen was speaking after a lunch with leaders of the nation's seven major business groups, including Lee Cheng-chia (李成家), chairman of the Taiwan Federation of Industry (工業協進會), Rock Hsu (許勝雄), chairman of the Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association (電電公會) and Gary Wang (王令麟), chairman of the General Chamber of Commerce (商業總會).

"The attendees all have strong faith in Taiwan's economy. But the extra-parliamentary resistance[against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁)] should be reduced; otherwise domestic consumption will be affected," Chen said.

Like exports, domestic consumption is a critical factor in driving economic growth, he said.

Citing statistics offered by Hsu during the luncheon, he said the nation's electronics sector has posted an impressive growth rate of 21 percent, higher than the 19-percent growth rate registered in export orders during the first nine months.

"We don't think the recent string of political incidents will have a negative impact on the economy," Chen said.

He also reiterated the government's resolve to continue to promote policies mapped out to stimulate economic development.

In particular, the Cabinet's "Big Warmth, Big Investment" project unveiled in September would be implemented to create a beneficial investment environment, he said.

The plan, with a budget of NT$191.4 billion (US$5.8 billion) over three years, aims to reduce the poverty gap, provide better care for the elderly, tackle the country's declining population figures and invest in national health projects.

The minister also asked the industrial and business heavyweights to help push forward Taiwan's negotiations with the US on signing a free trade agreement (FTA).

"I suggested that corporate chiefs and association members shore up support from US business circles, who can help lobby the US government to facilitate smooth talks with Taiwan," he said.

With bilateral trade reaching US$35.65 billion for the first eight months of the year, the US is Taiwan's third largest trade partner after China and Japan.

Taiwan completed bilateral talks and signed an FTA with Nicaragua in June, which is expected to take effect next year. Nicaragua is the third country to ink an FTA with Taiwan following Panama and Guatemala.

The ministry has endeavored to initiate FTA talks with major economies around the world, including the US, Japan and the ASEAN, as well as with countries maintaining formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

FTA talks have also gotten underway with El Salvador and Honduras, and the bilateral talks are expected to conclude by the end of this year, paving the way for Taiwan to sign FTAs with the Central American countries, the minister said last month.

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