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EU, Taiwan could begin with smaller trade accords: envoy

TAIPEI -- The European Union and Taiwan could strengthen bilateral trade ties by starting talks on more specific agreements before moving toward a comprehensive free trade agreement, the EU's trade representative in Taiwan said yesterday.

"We could begin with smaller agreements," said Frederic Laplanche, head of the European Economic and Trade Office, when asked about the possibility of a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the EU.

Smaller agreements could include an economic cooperation agreement or an investment protection pact, Laplanche said on the sidelines of an EU-Taiwan trade expo in Taipei.

Before any talks on smaller agreements, however, Taiwan needs to remove some trade barriers, such as the restriction of EU meat imports to Taiwan and the government's conservative procurement system, Laplanche said.

For a free trade agreement to exist between the EU and Taiwan, Taiwan needs to make more efforts in opening its market to make the target more feasible, he said.

A few years ago the EU began signing free trade agreements with other countries, and Taiwan still "stands far behind in the queue," the envoy said.

Speaking on the recovery of the EU's economy, Laplanche said the overall situation has improved compared with six months ago because the EU's member countries are more willing to step forward to face their financial problems directly.

The EU will address its structural problems to build a stable economic environment and gradually restore the market's confidence in the region, he said.

The EU is currently Taiwan's fourth largest trading partner, after China, Japan, and the United States, said Taiwan External Trade Development Council, Taiwan's top trade promoter.

Taiwan's bilateral trade with the EU rose by an annual 8.1 percent last year to over US$52.5 billion, accounting for about 8.9 percent of Taiwan's total external trade, the council said.

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