Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Taiwan signs up to WTO procurement agreement

HELD UP The government procurements deal was delayed for six years because the Chinese disagreed on terminology that implied Taiwan is a sovereign nation

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced yesterday that Taiwan would soon sign up to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) under the WTO, breaking a six-year political deadlock between Taiwan and China.

“Our country is expected to join the WTO’s GPA in the near term and to become a new party to the agreement,” MOFA said in a press release announcing Taiwan’s decision to open its huge government procurement market to international competitors.

Signing the GPA was one of Taiwan’s major commitments when it became a WTO member in 2002, and Taiwan completed all necessary bilateral consultations with GPA member countries to become part of the agreement by the end of that year.

But because of political opposition from China on the grounds that certain terminology in the schedule of government agencies involved — such as the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan and MOFA — implied sovereignty, Taiwan’s GPA accession stalled.

MOFA said that thanks to the active coordination and consultations by the GPA committee chairman, the US and the EU, “a preliminary consensus [on Taiwan’s accession] has been reached.”

If everything goes smoothly, Taiwan is expected to join the GPA in the near future, with sources in Taiwan and Geneva suggesting that Taiwan could become a member of the GPA as early as Dec. 9, when the GPA committee is scheduled to hold its last formal meeting for the year.

As to the format of Taiwan’s accession and compromise over the political controversy, a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “it is acceptable to all parties,” without going into detail.

“It’s fair to say that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have shown good will,” said another ranking official, referring to the thawing relations between Taipei and Beijing since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office on May 20.

The accession marks a substantial milestone in Taiwan’s participation in international trade organizations. As a GPA member, Taiwan’s government procurement market would be open to other GPA members, and vice versa, based on the principles of reciprocity and national treatment, the MOFA said.

The WTO Secretariat estimated the government procurement market in GPA signatory countries totaled US$5.55 trillion per year, which would now be open to Taiwanese companies.

Foreign firms looking for a piece of Taiwan’s government procurements also welcomed the announcement.

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