Ex-AIT head urges trade pacts

GLOBAL MARKETS::The former AIT boss said Taiwan should engage with global and regional partners, while the government said it was working toward a number of deals

By Helen Ku  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 - Page 13

Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director William Stanton yesterday said Taiwan should be more aggressive on talks regarding free-trade agreements (FTA) as well as regional trade agreements in order to foster trade with other countries in the global market.

“We all know free-trade agreements are politically sensitive and politically difficult ... but I think it’s very much in Taiwan’s interests to move as quickly as possible to open up its trade with many countries,” Stanton said at a conference organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (AmCham) yesterday.

Stanton said although Taiwan has been in negotiations on free-trade agreements with Singapore and New Zealand, and that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) both agreed last year that Taiwan should further liberalize its trade to prevent being edged out of global competition, “Taiwan needs to move forward more quickly [on more FTA talks].”

Stanton made the remarks at the 2013 Spring Conference of the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce, being hosted by AmCham Taipei for the first time in 20 years.

Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Francis Liang (梁國新), who attended the conference, said the government is “working on the front [as scheduled],” citing Ma’s pledge to join the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within eight years.

Liang said the nation is also seeking to gain experience from negotiations on a Taiwan-Singapore FTA and a Taiwan-New Zealand Economic Cooperation Agreement in order to “be prepared” to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership or sign an FTA with the US.

“We need to first carry out some domestic reform in order to meet the high standards for joining the TPP,” Liang said.

Landfall Strategy Group director David Skilling said at the conference that since 2001, when there were only three FTAs in the world, more countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, are joining intra-regional trade groups, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) launched by member countries of the ASEAN and the TPP.

However, the increase in multilateral pacts has led to debate about whether such agreements make the global economy more difficult for firms to navigate and create a more complex supervisory environment, with rules set by separate provisions in each country, he said.

In addition to their economic benefits, FTAs and other regional trade agreements, such as the RCEP and the TPP, should not be seen as purely commercial deals in nature, but also carry significant strategic content because the choice of partners in such agreements and their negotiation strategies also reflect political choices.

Tami Overby, vice president of the Asia division of the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a speech that the US is not conducting TPP talks in order to counterbalance the rising economic power of many Asian countries, especially that of China.

She said the US welcomed all nations, including Taiwan, to join the TPP as long as they meet the high standards set by member countries.

Overby added that the US will not give Japan any preferential treatment when negotiating its candidacy.