About 80 government officials from across the Taiwan Strait congregated in Jhongli, Taoyuan County yesterday for the start of the first Economic Cooperation Committee (ECC) meeting, marking the first time both sides have held trade talks that reached the level of vice economic ministers.
The meeting was chaired by Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Francis Liang (梁國新) and his Chinese counterpart, Commerce Ministry deputy minister Jiang Zengwei (姜增偉).
Following the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in June, the ECC was set up last month to follow up on the execution of the trade pact.
Six working groups under the ECC were formally established yesterday to negotiate on the liberalization of commodity trade and the service sector, cooperation on customs and industry and the establishment of mechanisms for investment protection and dispute resolution.
As stipulated by the ECFA, negotiations on commodity trade and the service sector must be launched before March 12 — six months after the pact was signed.
Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) said last week that it would take between one and two years of negotiations before a commodity trade pact, which would involve 5,000-plus items, could be signed.
Speculations had swirled before the ECC meeting that private industries such as those in the automotive and flat-panel sectors are eager to enhance partnership through such approaches as tariff reduction or strategic investments like stake-buying.
Liang said yesterday’s meeting had outlined which government agencies and officials would be in charge of which working groups, but it did not discuss which sectors would be opened.
As for calls by such industry groups as the General Chamber of Commerce (全國商業總會) and the Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (電電公會) to set up branches in China and Chinese trade groups to do the same in Taiwan, Liang said no substantive decisions were made yesterday, as the matter involves the amendment of various laws.
The two sides did discuss a cross-strait investment protection agreement yesterday — a critical issue on which negotiations have been held a few times since late last year.
“It is not uncommon to see disagreements in the negotiation process. That’s why meetings are held, to try to resolve the differing views and to reach a consensus,” Jiang said in a short speech after the end of the meeting, without fielding reporters’ questions.
Liang said investment protection will be included as part of the “prior agenda” in the seventh round of high-level cross-straits talks, which are most likely to be held in the second half of the year.
“The scope of investment protection is massive and both sides reached a high level of consensus yesterday,” he said, offering no further details.
The second ECC meeting is expected to take place in about six months to evaluate the progress of the working groups and the execution of the early harvest list.