Taiwan-China fight delays update of WTO directory

STATUS: The world trade body has had to skip three regular updates to its Blue Book due to differences over the name of the Taiwanese mission in Geneva

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 4

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has postponed updating its directory -- the so-called "Blue Book" -- for more than a year due to the dispute between Taiwan and China over the English title of Taiwan's Geneva-based permanent mission, the country's top representative to the WTO Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章) said yesterday.

The trade body usually updates its directory in April and October each year, but since February last year China has been pressuring the trade body to alter the official title of the Permanent Mission of the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu to the WTO in its Blue Book.

China wants the WTO to reduce the status of Taiwan's permanent mission to the same level as Hong Kong's and Macau's economic trade offices in Geneva.

"This is unacceptable. Hong Kong and Macau have been handed over to China from their colonizers. Taiwan is a sovereign country," Yen said.

The WTO has missed three opportunities to update its directory, in April and October last year, and in April of this year. During this time the details for a number of member states' WTO mission personnel have changed.

In a report presented to the legislature last week, Yen said Taiwan's WTO mission has insisted that no changes be made to the names of Taiwanese government agencies such as the Presidential Office and the Cabinet in its official letters to the trade body.

China dislikes these titles, because they imply Taiwanese sovereignty, Yen said.

"We are still trying to negotiate with the WTO about our mission's title. The directory needs to be updated," Yen said, adding that a lot of effort will be needed to settle the row with China.

Yen, who is taking a break from his regular duties in Geneva, attended a tea party with reporters in Taipei yesterday.

The former finance minister said his impression of Chinese officials has changed since he started working with the WTO in Geneva.

"My interactions with Chinese officials in the trade body occupy less than 5 percent of my overall workload. We will try to develop a sound member-to-member relationship with China under the WTO framework," Yen said.

The Mainland Affairs Council hopes that negotiations with China can be resumed in the WTO to discuss issues such as direct cross-strait links and the establishment of Taiwanese banks in China.

Because of the "one China" principle, Beijing has refused to treat Taiwan as an equal member since it entered the WTO one day ahead of Taiwan on Jan. 1, 2002. China claims trade ties with Taiwan are part of its internal affairs.

Nevertheless, Taiwan and China sat down at the WTO to thrash out differences over steel tariffs in December 2002, marking the first time the two sides consented to use the trade body to settle trade arguments.

The talks were also the two sides' first direct communication since 1999, when former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) declared his "special state-to-state" theory.

According to Yen, the atmosphere throughout the talks had been pleasant. One Chinese official attending the meeting even brought a camera along.

"We do not exclude the possibility that cross-strait talks will take place under the WTO framework. I am not sure whether the WTO will become an arena for Taiwan-China interactions. It takes time," Yen said.