Taiwan will try to forge bilateral free-trade agreements (FTAs) with individual ASEAN members such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand before seeking one with the organization as a whole, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday.
Lee Tsung-fen (李宗芬), deputy director of the Department of East Asian Affairs, said the government would continue its efforts to ink trade pacts with ASEAN countries that have high trade volume with Taiwan.
“The pact could start on an industry-specific basis,” said Lee, acknowledging that signing trade deal with any country is a long complicate process.
An FTA is usually defined as a zero tariff trade agreement between two countries.
Even though no ASEAN member has diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Lee said an FTA would be possible because under the WTO framework, members are allowed to sign FTAs and other trade and economic agreements among themselves.
Signing an FTA with even just one ASEAN nation would greatly benefit Taiwan because the goods would still enjoy tariff-waiver privilege as long as the products are moved among ASEAN countries, she said.
China, Japan and South Korea are dialogue partners with ASEAN in a grouping known as “ASEAN plus three,” and are scheduled to become trading partners next year, in 2011 and in 2012 respectively.
Most of the intra-ASEAN tariffs will be eliminated for the “ASEAN plus three” countries next January.
Taiwan has a strong commercial relation with the region, Lee said. It is ASEAN’s third larges trading partner, with close to US$60 billion in annual trade.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) has said Taiwan’s participation in ASEAN is one of his top goals.