President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday hailed the signing earlier in the day of the Agreement between Singapore and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu on Economic Partnership (ASTEP), saying it carried great significance and would facilitate the nation’s participation in regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific area.
“The ASTEP is a top-quality free-trade agreement with a non-ally nation. With the economic pacts with the Singapore and New Zealand as a foundation, we will speed up efforts to join economic integration in Asia-Pacific region. We won’t allow Taiwan’s absence from [regional integration],” he said.
Ma hailed the government’s efforts to promote regional economic integration by signing economic cooperation agreements with Japan last year and New Zealand earlier this year before the ASTEP, saying the latest pact will bring boost the nation’s economic development.
“I pledged in 2010 that we would push for the signing of free trade pacts with major trade partners after the signing of the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement [ECFA], and I am thankful for the pact signed today,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Council of Agriculture said Singapore was the nation’s 11th largest export market in terms of agricultural products and is ranked 22nd for imports.
Statistics from the Customs Administration showed that Taiwan enjoyed a surplus last year in the trading of agricultural products with Singapore. Agricultural products imported from Singapore were valued at US$93.03 million, whereas those exported to the Southeast Asian nation were valued at US$94.17 million.
“The agreement will help increase the nation’s export of top-quality agricultural products to Singapore and increase agricultural exports to other Southeast Asian countries as well, which will in turn raise farmers’ incomes,” the council said in a statement.
According to the council, the nation mainly imports tobacco products, as well as processed food from Singapore, such as milk powder, infant food, margarine, animal feed and cocoa powder.
Taiwan, on the other hand, exports frozen fish, orchids, mushrooms, sugared beverages, bakery and other processed products to Singapore.
Based on the agreement, Singapore has promised to lift all tariffs for agricultural products.
To reduce the impact on Taiwan’s farmers, particularly those growing rice, garlic, red beans, peanuts and mushrooms, the council said that the nation has maintained tariff rates for these products. However, Taiwan would immediately lower tariff rates on products including frozen beef, frozen fish and herbal medicines. The nation would also remove or reduce the tariff rates for some other agricultural products within five to 15 years.
The agreement stipulates that primary agricultural products must be grown in either Taiwan or Singapore to enjoy the zero or low-tariff rate scheme. The clause aims to prevent a third country from taking advantage of the scheme by trading in Singapore, a free trade port.
Materials imported from other countries must be turned into products that increase the value by 40 percent before the scheme can apply to them, the council said.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said it welcomed the agreement and would support its ratification.
Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), director of the DPP’s Department of International Affairs, said in a press release that negotiations for the pact began when the DPP was in power, adding that the ASTEP was only the first small step toward Taiwan’s regional economic integration, which includes possible free-trade agreements with major trade partners — Japan, the US and the EU — and membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.