President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that “good news” could come by the end of this year with regard to the nation’s negotiations with Singapore and New Zealand on the signing of bilateral free-trade agreements.
Raising the issue while receiving a Lion Clubs delegation, Ma said “the path has become wider and wider” for Taiwan since it signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in June 2010.
Both Singapore and New Zealand agreed to open free trade talks with Taiwan after that, Ma said, adding that the trade pacts with the two countries, combined with subsequent arrangements under the ECFA, would allow Taiwan to compete on a fair footing with other countries.
He said Taiwan will further work to sign similar agreements with major trading partners, including the US and the EU.
Ma said the government has been working to overcome Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation and strengthen its relations with other countries.
So far, Taiwanese nationals have gained visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 129 countries and territories worldwide, although only 23 of them maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, he said.
With the travel privileges enjoyed by Taiwanese having become the envy of Chinese residents, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently received more than 100 applications from People’s Republic of China (PRC) citizens for Republic of China (ROC) passports, Ma said.
According to the ministry, PRC citizens with permanent residency in another country can apply for ROC passports through Taiwan’s overseas missions.
On economic issues, Ma said the government is encouraging China-based Taiwanese businesspeople to return to, and invest in, Taiwan as part of efforts to boost the stagnant economy.
The government is also increasing its investment in public construction projects, such as the NT$2.3 trillion (US$78 billion) Taoyuan Aerotropolis project, he said.
He added that the country’s first free economic demonstration zone — the expansion of the existing freeport zone — is to be established in Kaohsiung, which could enhance the country’s competitiveness.
He also reiterated his pledge to address the problem of stagnant wages.
According to Ma, the problem can be attributed to Taiwan’s industrial structure which, he said, focuses on low-margin contract manufacturing instead of high-margin innovation and value-added products.
Industry should make a shift toward specializing in key components and precision equipment to make the nation more competitive in the global market, he said.