Thu, Nov 16, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan, China clash at APEC

SOVEREIGNTY SPAT The Minister of Economic Affairs took exception to comments made by the Chinese delegate as they discussed free trade pacts

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER IN HANOI

Taiwan's APEC delegate yesterday lashed out at a Chinese delegate's comment during the APEC ministerial meeting that only "sovereign countries" had the right to sign free trade pacts.

Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆) went on to stress that all WTO members have the right to negotiate economic pacts with the other member economies.

Cabinet officials from the APEC economies yesterday began their annual two-day meeting by discussing how to restart suspended global trade talks and get their own Pacific Rim free trade area off the ground.

The ministerial meeting focused on the restoration of the Doha Round of negotiations and the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) promoted by APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). The meeting lasted for more than three hours, which forced the leaders' group photo, a forum tradition, to be postponed until today.

Nineteen member economies voiced their opinions on the global trade talks, proving that a revival of the Doha Round was the common focus for APEC members.

Taiwan's delegates, Minister of Finance Ho Chih-chin (何志欽) and Chen, exchanged greetings with WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and the delegates from the US, Korea and Singapore. But they did not have any interaction with the delegates from China and Hong Kong.

Although the Taiwanese and Chinese delegates did not talk to each other before the meeting, they clashed during the closed-door meeting discussing the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

Taiwan has been supportive of the FTAAP and has expressed a strong will to participate in any free trade pact, as it would prevent the nation being marginalized by other Asian countries.

But in the ministerial meeting, China, Indonesia and the Philippines appeared cool towards the establishment of the FTAAP.

China's APEC delegate, Vice Minister of Commerce Yi Xiaozhun (易小準), said it was not necessary to establish the FTAAP just because of requests from the private sector and added that the economies should find other solutions to the complicated issues caused by the free trade agreements.

"But if there is a need to establish the FTAAP, we believe that only sovereign countries can sign free trade pacts," Yi said.

Upon hearing Yi's remarks, Chen replied that all APEC and WTO members recognized that a multilateral structure was the most important model in dealing with divergent opinions on economic issues. He added that if economies signed FTAs and regional trade agreements under WTO regulations, it would attain the goal of free trade more effectively.

"In fact, according to WTO regulations, each WTO member economy has the right to negotiate and sign FTAs," Chen said.

US trade ambassador Susan Schwab rounded up the ministerial meeting, saying that the US had a definite goal for this year. Schwab said that its near-term objective was to revive the Doha Round of negotiations, the medium-term objective was to attain the Bogor Goal, and the FTAAP was a long-term goal, Schwab said.

The Bogor Goal, reached at the 1994 Economic Leaders' meeting in Bogor, Indonesia, between all APEC economies, set the target of achieving free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by no later than 2010 in industrialized economies and 2020 in developing economies.

Meanwhile, Teco Group (東元集團) chairman Theodore Huang (黃茂雄), who is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) on Saturday at the ABAC discussion forum, said yesterday that he planned to talk about regional cooperation with Hu as well as other topics including environmental protection, business operation and anti-terrorism.

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