Fri, Dec 06, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan and China to go to WTO mat over steel

DUMPING Over 90 percent of Taiwan's steel is exported to China and Beijing wants to talk about this, begrudgingly, under the WTO framework

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A steel-dumping dispute between Taiwan and China may bring the two political rivals to the negotiating table for the first time under the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

After refusing for months to conduct bilateral talks with Taiwan, China notified Taiwan's WTO representative office in Geneva late last month of its intent to open negotiations with Taiwan to discuss Taiwan's China-bound exports of cold-rolled steel.

"It will be a fixed-topic negotiation," John Deng (鄧振中), Taiwan's deputy representative to the WTO, told the Taipei Times by phone yesterday.

Deng added that the representative office is still waiting for Taipei's instructions before responding to China's offer.

In the letter, China, however, referred to Taiwan's WTO representative office as the "WTO economic and trade office," instead of its official title, "the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu."

On Thursday, Taiwan's permanent representative to the WTO, Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章), called "China's unilateral change of the name is inappropriate."

Yen refused to comment on whether the potential face-to-face trade talks under the global body would be hindered by the move, according to local media.

"It's Taipei's call, but our delegation will begin preparing for talks," Yen was quoted as saying.

But back in Taipei, Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu (林義夫) expressed dissatisfaction with the Chinese ploy saying "Taiwan can't accept the name -- WTO economic and trade office -- change by China."

Taiwan plans to send a delegation to Geneva next week to deal with the steel issue, according to foreign trade officials in Taipei.

Despite the name issue, pundits yesterday were upbeat about the possibility of breaking the ice on trade talks with China.

"We look forward to any chance of launching government-to-government cross-strait trade talks," said Wang Chung-yu (王鍾渝), chairman of the Taiwan Steel & Iron Industries Association (鋼鐵公會).

Wang, who is also a KMT legislator, however, expressed concern that resolving disputes under the WTO framework will be very time-consuming. He said that he is not optimistic that such negotiations will reach any conclusions soon.

Tien Jiun-mei (田君美), director of mainland economics studies at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, yesterday said cross-strait trade talks are inevitable.

"It's better to talk to each other to resolve trade disputes," Tien said.

"If negotiations work, this may help [the two nations] make headway at setting up a dispute-solving mechanism for future cross-strait trade relations."

Taiwan's steel industry suffers from oversupply and exports some 60 to 90 percent of its steel production to China,Tien said.

In return, China may seek to persuade Taiwan to open up its steel markets during negotiations, she said.

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