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September 19, 2017

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All FTA talks shelved over service pact protests: minister

TAIPEI--All free trade negotiations with Taiwan planned for this year have been shelved by "other countries" because of unrest over the services pact with China, Economics Minister Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) said Monday, though he refused to name any specific countries.

Chang told the Legislature's Economics Committee that many countries have grown hesitant and indefinitely postponed scheduled talks after the weeks of protest and ongoing controversy over the service trade pact that have gripped the country and, at one point, ground the Legislature to a halt.

Names of Countries Confidential

Accused by Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) of making threats to scare the public, Chang said that he and his ministry are not at liberty to reveal the names of countries interested in talks with Taiwan.

Chang defended his stance and said that as a Cabinet minister, he will not make comments without solid evidence.

He stressed that foreign nations' concerns over trade deals with Taiwan are not because of the student-led protests against the China services pact, but are rather a result of the wider controversy over the agreement itself.

The trade-in-services pact has been stalled at the Legislative Yuan since shortly after it was signed in June last year. Supporters, including the administration, say it is vital to Taiwan's economy, while opponents worry about local businesses and political motivation on the part of Beijing.

Student protesters launched an occupation of the Legislature's main chamber that lasted 24 days to show their opposition to how the pact has been handled, effectively blocking most lawmaking activities until they left on April 10.

Chang Dismisses Ex-AIT Chief's Comments

A former U.S. envoy said in an interview published yesterday that the services pact with China is not needed for Taiwan to pursue other trade deals, comments that Minister Chang called regrettable and uninformed.

The Chinese-language Liberty Times published that day an interview with former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director William Stanton, who said that the controversial cross-strait deal with Beijing does not relate either directly or indirectly to Taiwan's chances at entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade bloc.

The comments by Stanton, who was the de facto U.S. representative at AIT's Taipei office from 2009 to 2012, went against President Ma Ying-jeou's repeated calls that passing the cross-strait services pact is a necessary first step before Taiwan can join regional trade blocs.

Now the director of the Center for Asia Policy at Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University, Stanton said the United States does not consider the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) of 2010 or other deals with China to be representative of regular FTAs because the agreements are meant to promote Beijing's political goals.

Speaking later Monday, Minister Chang said it was "regrettable" that Stanton apparently "does not understand" Taiwan's economic plight despite living on the island for so long.

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