Wed, Nov 22, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Trade deal with Australia said to now be on hold

NEWSPAPER REPORT:The foreign ministry and the Australian Trade Office in Taipei were quizzed about a story that the ‘Australian Financial Review’ published

Staff writer, with CNA

The government is continuing to seek free-trade agreements (FTAs) with nations around the world, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday, amid media reports that Australia’s plans to sign a trade deal with Taiwan was shelved due to Chinese pressure.

A report in Monday’s edition of the Australian Financial Review newspaper quoted a source as saying that although such a plan remains official Australian government policy, it has been put on hold because Canberra has its hands full doing deals with Hong Kong, Indonesia, the EU, the Pacific Alliance and trying to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The article, titled “China Pressure helped put Taiwan FTA on Hold,” quoted the source as saying that Australia signed a free-trade deal with China in 2015 and it was deemed “polite to leave an elegant distance between the deal with mainland China and doing a deal with Taiwan.”

The paper quoted Australian Senator David Leyonhjelm as warning the Australian government that it should not kowtow to Beijing.

“I’m concerned that the government has caved in to pressure from China and that an FTA with Taiwan is no longer on the agenda. While trade with China will always be greater, we should not abandon our values and principles,” he said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) did not directly confirm that Chinese pressure is the reason a deal has yet to be signed with Australia, saying only that the government would continue its efforts to sign FTAs with all major trade partners.

“It is our nation’s existing trade and economic policy to sign FTAs with other countries and actively participate in all kinds of regional economic integration initiatives,” he said.

The Australian Office in Taipei said reporters should refer to remarks made by Australian Attorney-General Senator George Brandis in the Australian Senate on Wednesday last week.

“Taiwan is an important economic partner for Australia, and our bilateral relationship continues to expand. The government is open to the possibility of pursuing better market access arrangements and closer economic cooperation with Taiwan,” Brandis said.

Australia recognizes Beijing and “any arrangements” Australia concludes with Taiwan would be consistent with its “one China” policy, he said.

Meanwhile, asked about a FTA with Taiwan in an interview with the Central News Agency on Monday, Australian Office in Taipei Representative Catherine Raper said Canberra is open to the possibility, but it is not currently at the top of its list.

“The Australian government is definitely open to exploring how we can grow our market access through some arrangements between the two of us, but we haven’t yet made a decision to directly go ahead to move into an FTA,” she said.

“We also haven’t made a decision not to. It’s something we keep under review,” she said, adding that it is not something the Australian government is actively pursuing right now.

Taiwan was Australia’s 14th-largest trading partner last year and its eighth-largest export market for the 2016-2017 financial year.

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