Fri, Aug 06, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan, Singapore mull trade accord

DIFFERING VIEWSWhile the KMT called it a positive result of the ECFA with China, the DPP said most of the groundwork had been completed during the DPP regime

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan and Singapore will explore the possibility of signing an economic cooperation agreement under the WTO framework, the Presidential Office said yesterday.

Taiwan and Singapore made the announcement in a joint press release and officials will meet later this year for discussions, Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-­chiang (羅智強) said.

The Taipei Representative Office in Singapore said on its Web site that Taiwan and Singapore had agreed to “explore the feasibility of an economic cooperation agreement” under the framework of the WTO and that the Executive Yuan was also eyeing Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand as potential targets for trade pact negotiations.

Lo said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had promised during a debate with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in April that he would lead a task force to push the signing of free-trade agreements (FTA) or economic cooperation accords with other countries after the inking of an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with Beijing in June.

The president was glad to see the task force deliver results within one month, Lo added.

If Taiwan and Singapore ink an economic cooperation agreement, Lo said, the city state could serve as a bridge for Taiwan to develop closer economic ties with India, Japan and ASEAN.

Asked why the proposed pact was called an economic cooperation agreement and not an FTA, Lo said trade agreements signed under the WTO framework have different names and not all are called FTAs.

As for the name the country would use to sign the agreement, Lo said it would be the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei),” which is the name the former DPP administration used when the country joined the WTO in 2000.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus yesterday lauded the development, saying this meant the government made the right decision in signing the ECFA.

The development has “political significance” although Taiwan and Singapore is not Taiwan’s biggest trade partner, KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said.

KMT Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said that because of the ECFA, he expected more countries would follow in Singapore’s footsteps and negotiate FTAs with Taiwan.

The DPP, on the other hand, said it was not a surprise that Taiwan and Singapore were negotiating a trade deal given that most of the groundwork had been completed under the former DPP administration.

“It’s not a breakthrough, and it’s not something to show off,” DPP spokesperson Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said, adding that the KMT government should instead aggressively push for FTAs with larger trading partners such as the US, Japan or the EU.

It is also cause for concern that the pact the government is negotiating with Singapore is based on the ECFA model, rather than a full-scale country-to-country FTA, he said.

“The government needs to make something clear: Just what exactly is Taiwan’s status in negotiating these economic agreements?” he said. “We shouldn’t keep compromising our sovereignty.”

As Singapore accounts for “less than 1 percent” of Taiwan's annual trade volume, Julian Kuo (郭正亮), the DPP’s ECFA response team spokesperson, said that even if the deal were signed, its contribution would be insignificant.

Ministry of Economic Affairs figures show that Singapore accounted for 3.55 percent of Taiwan's external trade last year, making it the nation's sixth-largest trading partner.

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