Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 1 News List

China sees broader trade links with Taiwan

CROSS-STRAIT TRADE Though China and Taiwan say WTO entry will bring both sides closer, they disagree as to whether it also mandates direct transportation links

By Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES IN BEIJING

Links across the Taiwan Strait will receive a tremendous boost after both sides enter the WTO, which is expected in November, said China's chief trade negotiator yesterday.

"Within [the WTO] legal framework, it will strengthen cross-strait economic and trade cooperation. It will give a considerably big push to cross-strait trade cooperation," Long Yongtu (龍永圖) told reporters in Beijing yesterday.

The Taiwan government viewed the statement as positive, with one official saying the remarks echo Taipei's sentiments that WTO entry would bring the two sides closer together.

"It's always been our position that both sides should take advantage of WTO membership to deal with each other based on its rules so that we can gradually normalize our relations," said John Deng (鄧振中), vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council that charts the government's China policy.

Long, who serves as China's vice trade minister, also said that authorities in Taiwan would be "gravely mistaken" if they believed that direct transport links between members were not covered within the scope of WTO regulations, reported Taiwan's TVBS television station from Beijing.

Transportation links between countries are a vital service for international trade, Long said.

"For us, `three links' is not a problem. Now, the problem is with the Taiwan side," he said.

But while Deng admitted that direct trade links are covered under the WTO general agreement and would need to be jointly discussed, he stressed that shipping and air transportation services -- the other two of the direct "three links" -- between members is not covered under the trade body's rules.

"Of course direct trade is covered by WTO rules and we always want to talk on this issue. Our position will not be changed so long as they agree to deal with us under the WTO framework," Deng said.

"The important thing is that we must set aside our difficult, long existing political issues and deal with economic issues that can benefit both parties," he added.

It is widely expected that the Economic Development Advisory Conference -- which will meet from Friday to Sunday to finalize stimulus proposals for the government -- will advise establishing the "three links" banned for more than 50 years, and relax restrictions on investment in China.

While Taiwan has opened the so-called "small three links" between its outlying islands and the Chinese coast, broadening the ties has been stalled by China's refusal to discuss the topic unless it is done so under the "one China" principle -- a condition unacceptable to Taiwan.

Chances for restarting dialogue are likely to get a boost after November, when both China and Taiwan say they are scheduled to enter the WTO.

"The conclusion that China will become a full member of WTO at the November Qatar WTO trade ministers' meeting is a foregone conclusion," said Long at a WTO meeting in Geneva on Sept. 10.

At the meeting, Beijing is expected to hand over the last legal documents on accession, including a series of multilateral agreements which must be approved by the 142 WTO member countries.

After that, China will finally become a WTO member 30 days after the documents are ratified by its own parliament, the National People's Congress.

Mexico is the only WTO member not to have reached a bilateral accord on China's entry, with the most recent talks on the issue ending without agreement late last month.

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