The Ministry of Economic Affairs yesterday said that it hoped Taiwan and China would complete negotiations on a trade agreement in goods by the middle of the year.
The ministry said the government has to speed up its pace of concluding negotiations with Beijing amid fears that China and South Korea will finish their negotiations on a free-trade agreement (FTA) in the near future, which would erode Taiwan’s trade advantage with China.
Ministry officials said that South Korea appears very aggressive in its FTA talks with China, with market observers predicting that Beijing and Seoul would finish their negotiations by the end of the year.
The officials said that since South Korean and Taiwanese exports largely overlap, Taiwanese companies would feel the pinch if South Korea finalizes free-trade talks with China before the trade agreement between Taiwan and China is concluded.
The government had expected the negotiations with China on the trade in goods to be completed by the end of last year, but those hopes evaporated as strong opposition to the service trade agreement delayed the talks.
The service trade agreement with China, which was inked in June last year, was considered the next step after the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was signed in 2010.
After the signing of the pact, Taiwan and China have been preparing to negotiate on the agreement in goods in an attempt to forge closer business ties across the Taiwan Strait.
However, the service trade agreement is still pending in the Legislative Yuan because of resistance from the opposition parties, which have also hampered the government’s efforts to ink the trade in goods agreement.
Opposition ranging from politicians to businesses and academics has said that the service trade agreement could negatively impact local businesses and eventually hurt Taiwanese jobseekers.
The ministry launched a series of conferences from late last month to meet representatives from the local business sector to hear the opinions of local enterprises about the agreement.
The ministry said the 16 conferences, which are to continue until the end of next month, are also expected to help local enterprises gain a better understanding and reduce opposition to the accord.
The ministry’s Industrial Development Bureau said that the government would try to seek reciprocal status in the negotiations with China for the country’s mainstream industries, such as petrochemicals, flat panels and machine tools.
The bureau said the government would urge Beijing to cut import tariffs for certain industries, especially the auto sector.