EU Representative to Taiwan Frederic Laplanche yesterday listed several “obstacles” to enhanced EU-Taiwan trade in the form of a free-trade agreement (FTA), but added that there is “plenty” to do without such a deal.
The obstacles ranged from the “lack of consciousness on both sides” of the importance of trade liberalization, existing trade barriers and political questions — the political will” to overcome resistance to trade liberalization and China’s attitude toward Taiwan’s regional economic integration, Laplanche said.
Laplanche delivered the opening remarks at a symposium on EU-Taiwan trade relations co-organized by the EU Research Centre at National Chengchi University and the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.
Continuing with trade liberalization is important for the EU and Taiwan both individually and bilaterally, but public opinion is not necessarily in favor of further trade liberalization, Laplanche said.
He said trade is a way out of the European economic crisis that has existed since 2008, but which has actually brought about more across-the-board protectionism and protectionist measures.
“Trade policy is like cycling on a steep slope. If you stop pedaling, you are not just going to stop there. You are going to go backward,” he said, adding that the relationship needs to go forward with trade liberalization to regain some growth for the EU, he said.
Laplanche said that trade liberalization is also important for Taiwan because its economy is heavily dependent on exports for growth and “more than just exports, [it] also exports to final markets in the US and in the EU.”
The decoupling of growth in Asia with growth in Europe and the US has yet to take place, Laplanche said.
It is not enough for Taiwan to be exporting to China and Southeast Asia as final markets, he added.
Laplanche said Taiwan and the EU need further bilateral trade liberalization, but there are a few obstacles.
One of the obstacles is the “lack of consciousness on both sides,” he said.
“There is a form of reciprocal invisibility between the EU and Taiwan,” Laplanche added.
Despite the fact that the EU accounts for only 9 percent of Taiwan’s external trade, “how much of Taiwan’s intermediary goods exported to China or to Southeast Asia end up in Europe as a final market? Probably much more than that,” Laplanche said.
There exist some hurdles toward an FTA between Taiwan and the EU, including trade barriers, which must be resolved before the two sides could move further, Laplanche said without elaborating.
There are also political hurdles, he added.
“It needs political will to convince people, including here in Taiwan, and to make tough choices,” Laplanche said. “When you sign an FTA, you will take pressure from some of the vested interests for the sake of a bigger good, but some of the vested interests here will suffer from more trade liberalization. Do we have the political will to do this? That’s one of the questions.”
“The second political question is mainland [sic] China’s policy of trying to control the pace of Taiwan trade agreements with its trading partners. It’s also a very important and complicated question to deal with,” Laplanche said.
Laplanche said that there is plenty of work that both sides can do to further trade liberalization via a trade discussion framework, under which both sides cooperate in annual consultations and working group discussions.