Recent comments by the Philippines’ trade and industry secretary cast doubt on the feasibility of Taiwan being able to sign free-trade agreements (FTA) with other economies in the region after it signs an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.
A major pillar of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) rationale for signing the controversial trade pact has been that the ECFA would pave the way for such agreements.
“Our ‘one China’ policy stands. An FTA with Taiwan is still too early to say and … our commercial matters with Taiwan are being handled adequately through the JEC [Philippines-Taiwan Joint Economic Conference],” Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Jesli A. Lapus was quoted by Manila Bulletin as saying on June 22.
Lapus said the JEC was working well and that the next meeting between Taiwanese and Philippine representatives — the 17th — would be held in Taiwan. The JEC was initially scheduled to be held in the first quarter, but was rescheduled to the fourth quarter to accommodate the entry of a new administration in the Philippines.
“Let the new administration call the shots” on the possibility of expanding the JEC to a full-fledged FTA between Taiwan and the Philippines, he said.
Lapus’ comments contrasted with earlier remarks, in which he voiced the possibility of exploring an FTA with Taiwan as relations between Taiwan and China improved.
“This might be the time to start talking. I see the benefits of this bilateral [FTA] because of [the] thousands of investors from Taiwan. This would even improve with an FTA,” Lapus had said in an earlier interview, also quoted by the Manila Bulletin.
Asked for comment on Lapus’ remarks, Bureau of Foreign Trade Director-General Huang Chih-peng (黃志鵬) told the Taipei Times on Friday that despite other regional economies’ stance of supporting a “one China” policy, an ECFA would nonetheless increase their willingness to sign FTAs with Taiwan.
“The political issues have to be resolved before other economies are willing to sign an FTA with us,” he said by telephone.
“The signing of an ECFA will be a ‘win-win’ for cross-strait relations in terms of economic ties, and through this, other countries have told us they would pay close attention to how the trade pact develops and explore the possibility of signing FTAs with Taiwan,” he said.
As a WTO member, Taiwan is free to sign FTAs with other economies as stipulated in the WTO clause, Huang said.
Taiwan has reportedly held several talks with Philippine authorities on the possibility of signing an FTA because the Subic-Clark-Kaoshiung Economic Corridor, established four years ago under former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration, was no longer sufficient to realize the full benefits of an FTA, the paper said.
“This economic corridor involves only a small area, while an FTA would cover both countries in their entirety, so this will expand relations of the two countries,” Taiwanese Representative Donald Lee (李傳通) said to Manila.
“Taiwan and the Philippines have agreed to discuss how the proposed FTA could be signed,” Lee said, adding that an FTA would cover both investments and trade.
He said he hoped that the discussions would be continued under the new Philippine government.
Lee said that once an ECFA is signed, more Taiwanese investors are expected to relocate to China, which could lead to the displacement of some of the estimated 80,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan.
Aside from the displaced workers, the Philippines could also lose potential investors because it would be easier for those investors to enter a country that has an existing agreement with Taiwan, Lee said to the Philippine Star earlier this month.
Last month, Subic Bay Development Management Corp president Jeff Lin (林繼武) said that there were no indications that Taiwanese firms in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone were preparing to relocate to China once the trade agreement has been signed.
Lin was responding to a report by Philippines National Economic and Development Authority director-general Augusto Santos.
The report claimed that some of the 135 Taiwanese companies in the zone would move to China after the trade pact is signed, leaving thousands of Filipinos out of work.
Lin said that some of the Taiwanese firms already established in the zone were mulling over expansion plans.
He said the zone had become more attractive to Taiwanese investors because of the positive effects of the FTA between China and ASEAN, which came into force at the beginning of this year.
The incoming Philippine president Benigno Aquino III will be inaugurated on June 30.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JASON TAN
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
CHINESE FIGHTERS: Beijing marked the US Cabinet member’s visit by briefly sending two warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the highest-level official meeting between the two nations since 1979. “It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from [US] President [Donald] Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said during the open portion of his courtesy call to the Presidential Office, which was streamed live online before Tsai and Azar held a closed-door meeting. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent,
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did