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September 21, 2017

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President Ma charts path to FTA network

President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday said that the government will simultaneously approach various partners for trade talks but will gradually carry out and complete negotiations on the signing of free trade agreements (FTAs) and economic cooperation pacts one by one.

Ma made the remarks at a seminar held yesterday afternoon at Southern Taiwan Innovation & Research Park, where more than 230 industry representatives gathered to discuss the impact of economic and trade liberalization.

As an island economy, Taiwan should in principle liberalize all economic and trade environments, with some "control measures" the only exceptions, the president said. With this in mind, the government is gearing up to seek FTA negotiations, he said.

The president continued that East Asian economic integration has been developing rapidly in recent years, and Taiwan may be gradually marginalized in the international trade arena if the country remains sidelined in this regard.

The government hopes to complete follow-up talks with mainland China over the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), signed in June 2010, and reach economic cooperation pacts with Singapore and New Zealand as soon as possible. In addition, the government will approach more countries for similar purposes to expand the scope of Taiwan's trade liberalization, Ma said.

At the moment, exports to regions which already have free trade agreements or economic cooperation pacts with Taiwan account for less than 5 percent of total outbound shipments. This is a sharp difference compared to the figures of 70 percent in Singapore, 35 percent in South Korea and 17 percent in Japan. This is a result of the country having made "no progress" in this regard over the past 10 years, Ma said, citing statistics released by the Ministry of Economic Affairs as indicating.

Ma noted that, under ECFA, Taiwan's shipments to mainland China subject to zero or reduced tariffs make up only 20 percent of the island's total exports to the mainland. This makes it an urgent task to conduct follow-up talks on expanding the coverage of products that can enjoy no or reduced tariffs, he said.

Since Taipei signed an investment promotion pact with Tokyo in September 2011, Japan's investments in Taiwan have increased significantly, which is quite an encouraging development, according to Ma.

Another significant development is that the government is ready to resume talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the U.S. after the settling of the controversial U.S. beef import issue, he added.

The president stressed that if Taiwan seeks to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership it should negotiate with other countries on trade liberalization and sign FTAs with each country.

Also speaking at the research park yesterday, Economic Minister Shih Yen-shiang said now that Taiwan has signed ECFA with mainland China, it will be easier and faster for the government to carry out trade pact negotiations with other countries.

Shih said that the government has allocated a budget of NT$95 billion to help local industries cushion the impact of trade liberalization during the 2010-2019 period.

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