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Long-stalled TIFA talks to resume soon: minister

TAIPEI -- The long-stalled Taiwan-U.S. talks under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) will resume soon, Economic Affairs Minister Shih Yen-shiang said Friday.

“TIFA talks play a critical role (in our trade and economic plans). Both sides have been meeting and negotiating very closely,” Shih said in response to reporters' questions at a year-end press briefing.

“In the near future, the U.S. will respond very positively (on the issue); in other words, the two sides will resume talks before long,” he added.

The talks under the TIFA, which was signed in 1994 as a framework for dialogue on trade-related issues in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, have been suspended since 2007 due to U.S. dissatisfaction with Taiwan's restrictions on imports of American beef.

Taiwan lifted the ban on imports of U.S. beef containing traces of a controversial leanness-enhancing drug in July this year, paving the way for resumption of TIFA talks.

King Pu-tsung, Taiwan's top representative to the United States, also expressed confidence on Dec. 26 that there will be positive news shortly on the resumption of TIFA talks, in his first report to the Legislature since assuming his post Dec. 1.

In addition to pushing for the resumption of TIFA talks, Shih said, his ministry is also actively working on free trade agreements or economic cooperation agreements with other countries, and on Taiwan's participation in regional trade groupings.

Taiwan is currently negotiating trade pacts with Singapore and New Zealand, while seeking support for its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The minister expressed hope that such trade deals and regional trade blocs will cover some 60 percent of the island's total trade volume by 2020.

Given that the current trade pacts only account for 5 percent of Taiwan's trade volume, “there's a long way ahead of us,” Shih said.

“Just like Pi in Ang Lee's movie 'Life of Pi,' Taiwan is in an environment of loss, fear and loneliness. Now, we need to pool our wisdom and work together to overcome the problems we face in order to usher in a brighter future,” the minister said.

Shih Yen-shiang also said Friday that talks on trade pacts with China, Singapore and New Zealand will soon be complete, though he would not specify when final agreements will be clinched.

“We've reached a consensus on most sectors, with a few sectors still being negotiated,” Shih said of a potential pact with China on trade in services.

Negotiations on the ASTEP, a pact between Singapore and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, and an economic cooperation agreement with New Zealand, are “basically complete, with just a few issues waiting to be ironed out,” Shih said.

He noted that although the public has hoped for free trade agreements soon, “a good pact might be more important than an agreement reached in haste,” he said.

Shih stressed that the ministry will fight for Taiwan's trade interests and will not compromise on principle just to be done by a certain date, Shih said.

On whether any of the three trade deals could be completed by the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 10, 2013, he said only that the ministry will complete the trade talks as soon as possible.

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