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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

Analyzing the lukewarm participation of Taiwanese companies, Jenni Yang (楊珍妮), counselor at the WTO mission, said local small-and medium-sized enterprises are used to operate alone without government assistance.

Besides, Taiwanese companies are mostly manufacturers of original equipment and had their brand-name clients deal with disputes in the past.

Despite the WTO's Doha round -- suspended in July over agricultural issues -- government officials, especially those at the mission, are still working hard in various areas to prepare for the resumption of negotiations, as a concession of even a decimal point represents billions of dollars for businesses every year.

MORE ROLES TO PLAY

Taiwan needs to increase its involvement in WTO activities, as the country has little capacity in signing bilateral or multilateral trade agreements, Taiwan's representative to the WTO, Lin Yi-fu (林義夫), told the Taipei Times in a recent interview in Geneva.

Lin's viewpoint was also clearly supported by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy in an interview earlier this month.

Lin, the former minister of economic affairs, took over the position from Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章) in May, becoming Taiwan's second representative to the WTO.

He is a veteran of international trade and was in charge of Taiwan's application to the WTO and various bilateral trade affairs.

In 2003, he led a delegation to the WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, for the first time after Taiwan joined the WTO.

During the interview, Lin said that at the present stage, Taiwan focuses more on fulfilling its WTO commitments, but soon it will need to play a bigger role in increasing its international participation and maximizing the interests of its industries.

During the timeout phase, the aid-for-trade program is one area Taiwan can exercise in, he added.

Echoing the "Millennium Development Goal" adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2000 aiming to halve world poverty by 2015, the WTO is now advocating aid-for-trade programs, hoping to find more funds for less developed countries.

Taiwan so far has donated a total of US$350,000 and 37,500 Swiss francs (US$30,000) to the Doha Development Agenda Global Trust Fund, but the amount is still much lower than the millions disbursed by other developed countries.

Despite Taiwan's limited budget for the fund, Lin said the nation can provide know-how and technical support as a form of aid-for-trade to lesser-developed countries, especially now that some of the funds have been shifted from improving livelihood to trade facilitation.

CONTRIBUTIONS

For example, some Central and South American countries have rich fish reserves but no refrigeration and storage facilities, or highways or ports to ship the goods, Lin said.

In some landlocked countries, transporting goods to another country's port for shipping involves going through a great deal of red tape, sometimes requiring as many as 100 official seals.

Taiwan is known for having streamlined its customs procedures, an area in which Taiwan can make a contribution as a WTO member, Lin said.

By doing so, Taiwan could further its relations with other countries as well as increase the nation's participation at the international level, Lin said.

Despite the fact that the agricultural issues which have blocked the Doha round still seem insurmountable at the moment, many member countries have been using "quiet diplomacy" to push for the reopening of the talks, Lin said.

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