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Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Taiwan sees opportunities at WTO

KEEN PLAYER More than four years after it joined the international body, some believe that Taiwan should deepen its involvement in the organization's activities

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lin Yi-fu, Taiwan's representative at the WTO, poses in front of his residence in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.

PHOTO: JESSIE HO, TAIPEI TIMES

On Jan. 1, 2002, Taiwan celebrated a hard-won victory as it finally was accepted as a member of the WTO, one of the rare international organizations this country has been able to participate in.

Four years have passed since then, and contrary to many people's expectations, thus far Taiwan's economy doesn't seem to have suffered negatively from the free-trade system.

On example is provided by the agricultural industry, a sector seemingly rife with vulnerabilities to free-trade. The nation's agricultural output value totaled NT$375.4 billion (US$11.28 million) last year, a 6.4 percent increase from 2001, the year before Taiwan's accession to the WTO, according to statistics provided by the Council of Agriculture.

Automobile manufacturing, another long-protected sector that, it was estimated, would bear the brunt of free trade, has also surprisingly gained on the country's membership status -- and done so despite fierce global competition.

According to statistics compiled by the Taiwan Transportation Vehicle Manufacturers Association (台灣區車輛工業同業公會), the annual output value of the automobile industry continually climbed from NT$347.9 billion in 2001 to NT$543.5 billion last year.

Taiwan cancelled a measure that requires a minimum 40 percent ratio of locally made car parts after its WTO entry and has promised to gradually lower import duties on small vehicles and auto parts.

"The automobile manufacturing sector had the strongest resistance to Taiwan's accession to the WTO, but the industry has weathered the challenge and even revived," said William Liu (劉威廉), an official at Taiwan's Permanent Mission at the WTO.

"The strength of our auto makers was fired up by market mechanism that came into effect after liberalization," Liu said.

Smaller traditional industries, impaired by massive industry migrations and cheap imports, are now facing a cutthroat battle for survival.

But for the moment, towel manufacturers can breathe a little more easily as the government has announced it would impose a 204.1 percent anti-dumping duty on Chinese towel imports for a period of five years.

This first safeguard measure taken by the WTO has encouraged shoemakers and non-coated paper makers, which are also about to request similar protection mechanism.

LOW PARTICIPATION

Even though Taiwan is the world's 16th largest economy, the rather slow reaction by Taiwanese demonstrated the general public's low awareness of WTO-related issues.

It was not until hundreds of workers from the towel manufacturing industry took to the streets in March that the public began showing an interest in the developments surrounding the nation's participation in the body.

"Unlike Brazilians, Taiwanese pay little attention to WTO issues, but the decisions made in WTO will actually affect their daily life," said Jackson Pai (白振瑜), legal assistant at Taiwan's WTO mission.

By opening the markets, consumers have access to cheaper goods and have more products and services to choose from.

Taiwanese companies also have a low participation in WTO affairs, but the result of negotiations are nevertheless closely related to their interests, Pai said.

South Korean companies, for example, are very active in WTO negotiations and even went to Hong Kong for the sixth WTO Ministerial Conference last year to ensure their interests would not be compromised, he said.

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