Wed, May 28, 2008 - Page 3 News List

Cross-strait talks to discuss cargo flights: SEF chair

PREPARATIONS Travel agencies in Guangdong said they were already taking reservations for the first direct tourist flights to Taiwan, reportedly in July

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER, WITH CNA

Direct chartered cargo flights will be one of the items on the agenda in the upcoming talks with Beijing, Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) confirmed yesterday after Monday's confusion over which issues were included in a document authorizing negotiations with China received by the foundation from the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

Chiang said that according to MAC’s letter, the SEF was commissioned to enter negotiations with Beijing’s Association on Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) on two issues: direct charter flights and allowing Chinese tourists to come to Taiwan.

“The scope of direct charter flights undoubtedly includes both passengers and cargo flights. We [the SEF] will definitely raise the issue of direct cargo transport in the upcoming talks,” Chiang said.

The passenger charter flights would begin with weekend services, with the goal of expanding the service to daily flights, the chairman said.

The SEF and ARATS have not held any formal talks since 1999 and so far no set time has been scheduled for the next meeting.

MAC Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said in a press conference on Friday that cross-strait talks could resume as soon as next month and Taiwan would not object to meeting its Chinese counterpart in a third country.

The SEF on Monday invited ARATS into formal discussions on the issues but as of press time, Beijing had not responded.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong daily Wen Wei Po reported yesterday that China had agreed that the first group of tourists heading for Taiwan by direct flight would leave on July 4.

The major travel agencies in Guangdong said they had not been informed yet, but there had been earlier reports saying the first direct flights would take place in the first week of July.

The report said travel agencies in Guangdong were offering five-day trips to Taiwan for about 6,500 yuan (US$935) to 7,500 yuan per person. The agencies were taking reservations, but were waiting for more detailed regulations before they start accepting customers, it said.

Chen Zhichao (陳志超), vice general manager of a Guangdong travel agency, said that since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office last week, many people have asked for information on traveling to Taiwan.

The travel agency’s itinerary included dictator Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Shilin Official Residence (士林官邸), the National Palace Museum, the Presidential Office and several sights around Alishan (阿里山), including the Sisters Pond (姐妹潭), the Divine Tree (神木) and the Three Generation Tree (三代木).

Chen said that when direct flights start, tourist quotas and limitations on the number of flights would mean that demand for travel to Taiwan would exceed supply. He said that during this early period, travel agencies would concentrate on offering quality rather than compete on prices.

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