Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Nation flexible on own title in FTA talks

`NOT SO RIGID' The country's name remains negotiable as government officials look to kick-start stalled talks with Singapore and other potential free-trade partners

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government is flexible on the title used for Taiwan as it seeks to sign free-trade agreements (FTA) with a number of countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

"The Republic of China (ROC) is not necessarily the title both sides have to adopt if they are to restart talks," said Colvin Liu (劉榮座), director general of the ministry's Department of Economic and Trade Affairs.

Liu was commenting on stalled FTA talks between Taiwan and Singapore owing to disagreement over Taiwan's official name.

"We can be very flexible in dealing with the content of the talks. We are not so rigid. Singapore and other countries that are conducting FTA talks with us should realize that signing such agreements with Taiwan would bring huge benefits," Liu said.

The four titles Taiwan would agree to in negotiating FTAs with other countries were, in order of preference: "ROC," "Taiwan," "Taiwan Economy" and "Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu," according to officials attending the annual ministerial meeting of the APEC forum in Bangkok.

Bilateral trade relations under FTAs are seen as a means to prevent Taiwan from being marginalized in a regional economy featuring a fast-growing Chinese market and attempted economic integration by ASEAN members.

After its accession to the WTO last year, Taiwan geared up to negotiate FTAs with a number of countries. As it would be difficult to sign an FTA with ASEAN as a whole, Taiwan would therefore seek to sign individual pacts with its member states, Liu said.

"Singapore would not see fewer benefits than Taiwan from an FTA between the two countries. Taiwan has been a big investor in Southeast Asian countries. Our investment in Vietnam and technical cooperation with its local agencies have significantly boosted that country's economy," Liu said.

Taiwan signed its first-ever FTA with diplomatic ally Panama in August. However, coveted FTA negotiations with the US are still hampered by Taiwan's failure to tackle intellectual piracy and copyright problems, said Liu.

Liu also explained why Taiwan failed to fulfill its promise to join the WTO's Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) upon its accession to the WTO, an agreement designed to make regulations and practices regarding government procurement more transparent and to ensure they do not protect domestic products or suppliers, or discriminate against foreign products or suppliers.

"We have tried very hard to join the committee. However, as we reached the final stage of negotiating our accession, some GPA members played politics, asking us to mark in certain documents that Taiwan is not a sovereign entity. We cannot accept that," Liu said.

Liu said joining the GPA could not be achieved solely through unilateral effort. Circumstantial factors, "such as China's intervention," have obstructed Taiwan's efforts to deliver on its promise, Liu said.

The government procurement committee now has 28 members and Taiwan is negotiating accession to the committee.

Meanwhile, one month after the disastrous WTO ministerial conference in Cancun, Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章), Taiwan's permanent representative to the WTO, and John Deng (鄧振中), the deputy permanent representative, attended an informal meeting of delegation heads on Tuesday.

WTO General Council Chairman Carlos Perez del Castillo and Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi reported during the meeting that members were willing to get back to work in line with the mandate agreed by delegations at Cancun.

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