Negotiations on trade arrangements between the EU and Taiwan are on the right track despite an imbalance in bilateral trade and investment, according to a top EU diplomat in Taipei.
While they are still exploring the feasibility of a deal similar to a free-trade agreement, both sides have already started to collaborate in various areas that could have a huge impact, said Guy Ledoux, chief of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei, the bloc’s representative office in Taiwan in the absence of official bilateral ties.
Since the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in June to liberalize two-way trade, Taiwan has turned to other major trade partners, including the EU, for possible FTAs.
In an interview with the Central News Agency on Friday, Ledoux said that the EU received positive and constructive feedback from Taiwan during an annual meeting held in Brussels in November, which showed that the process is “on the right track.”
“Brussels hasn’t forgotten Taiwan … If there is will on the Taiwanese side to make progress, the EU will also find the resources to engage in dialogues,” Ledoux said, adding that the EU has never interrupted the annual meeting.
Ledoux will soon be re--assigned to the Philippines after heading the EU office in Taiwan for four years.
The EU and Taiwan have started collaboration in three different areas — investment, public procurement and standards, he said, and if someday there would be negotiation on the Trade Enhancement Measures (TEM), the temporary name of an EU-Taiwan FTA, those three elements will be part of such an arrangement.
However, there have been two major imbalances between the two sides — export and investment — which “need to be corrected,” he said. According to the diplomat, Taiwan has a significant amount — about 30 billion euros (US$38.7 billion) — of export to the EU and, while the EU is Taiwan’s largest foreign investor, Taiwanese companies have invested very little in EU countries.
There has not been any progress in terms of Taiwan’s investment in Europe during his four years in Taiwan, despite the energy his office has devoted to investment promotion, he said.
“Maybe we haven’t touched the right button,” he said, adding that investing in China has been also the “easy choice” for Taiwanese companies.
The French-born diplomat said Taiwanese businessmen tended to forget the size of the European economy, which is around 14 trillion euros, compared with China’s 5 trillion.
While 2 percent growth in Europe is not as impressive as the 10 percent growth in the Chinese economy, the EU is adding 300 billion euros — about the size of the Taiwanese economy — to the size of its own economy each year, he said.
He said hw hoped that the recent Schengen visa exemption to Taiwanese passport holders would make it easier for Taiwanese businesspeople to fly to Europe to meet partners and explore business opportunities.
Ledoux also said he didn’t think a European Commission decision last month to slap a total of 433.92 million euros in fines on a group of Taiwanese manufacturers would impact bilateral trade relations.
AU Optronics Corp (友達光電), Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp (奇美電子), Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd (中華映管) and HannStar Display Corp (瀚宇彩晶) were fined for allegedly fixing prices in violation of the EU’s competition rules after Samsung, their South Korean competitor, blew the whistle.
On the anger of some Taiwanese business leaders over Samsung Electronics Co’s behavior, Ledoux said the EU underlined the importance of a level playing field.
Even though many people said the mechanism was unfair, it is “the way … to make sure that somebody’s going to blow the whistle to tell you that something is going on.”
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