The cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) has enhanced Taiwan’s opportunity to participate in East Asian economic integration, but did not remove political factors that might hinder the progress, a visiting academic from New Zealand said yesterday.
Answering questions at a forum in Taipei regarding the chances of Taiwan signing a free-trade agreement (FTA) with New Zealand and joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), New Zealand APEC Study Center director Robert Scollay said that “obviously there are political issues that needed to be resolved.”
Scollay declined to elaborate on the “political connotations” attached to a possible Taiwan-New Zealand FTA, as well as Taiwan’s participation in the TPP and an initiative to create a proposed free-trade area of the Asia-Pacific, because he said he is not a political expert, but said that the political factors involved were not non-issues.
In his presentation delivered at the symposium hosted by the National Policy Foundation of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that addressed the implications of the ECFA on economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region, Scollay said the ECFA has affected some regional economies.
The ECFA has prompted South Korea to re-evaluate its approach to economic integration with China and Japan, and to consider moving ahead with negotiating a bilateral FTA with China rather than waiting for the slower development of a trilateral FTA among the three economies, Scollay said.
China, South Korea and Japan have been unable to agree on the basis for a trilateral FTA, but the move by South Korea would in turn prompt Japan to re-evaluate its approach, he added.
The opportunity that the ECFA creates for Taiwan to develop FTAs with a range of countries has been touted by officials, but except for an immediate response from Singapore, Taiwan’s initiative to have FTAs with other partners is “seemingly likely to materialize rather more slowly,” he said.
Despite the slow progress, Taiwan should be able to become more closely integrated with the Asia-Pacific region through gradually developing its own FTAs in the region, as well as through closer and more balanced integration with China, Scollay said.
Regarding the chance of an FTA between Australia and Taiwan, Ken Waller, director of the Australian APEC Study Center at RMIT University, said there was much that could be done to enhance bilateral trade and investment without an FTA and suggested Taiwan review its domestic policies.
“Unilaterally, I have no doubt that [when] the door is open, you don’t need an FTA to do that. That doesn’t mean you should not have an FTA, but you don’t need one and you can benefit anyway,” Waller said.
Waller said Australia and Taiwan could proceed to expand their trade and investment relationship in a highly satisfactory and rewarding way in the absence of formal agreements.
Taiwan and Australia should continue to deepen their relationships within APEC and use that as a means of influencing reforms across the region to enhance growth and opportunities in member economies, he added.