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May 27, 2017

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Taiwan, China to exchange 'early harvest' lists for pact

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan and China will soon take a critical step forward toward their goal of signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA), as they will exchange "early harvest" lists next week, officials said yesterday.

According to Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang, Taiwan and China will hold a fourth round of informal talks on the ECFA deal in Beijing Nov. 3-4, during which they will touch on "early harvest" issues for the first time.

The "early harvest" lists refer to industries or services that each side will open for immediate tariff concessions or more liberal trade terms under the ECFA, similar to provisions under a free trade agreement.

"During the forthcoming round of talks, the two sides will exchange their 'early harvest' lists and discuss each listed item, but we do not think that a consensus can be reached immediately at the meeting," Shih said.

On a recent statement made by Wang Yi, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office under China's State Council, that Beijing hopes ECFA-related talks can get underway this year, Shih said Taiwan welcomes China's positive attitude toward the deal.

Taiwan's government hopes to seal an ECFA agreement with China as soon as possible to reduce the impact on Taiwanese businesses of the economic integration of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which comes into force next year. After the China-ASEAN free trade agreement takes effect on Jan. 1, 2010, petrochemical products, textiles, automobile parts and machinery exports from ASEAN states to China will enjoy tariff-free treatment, which Taiwan's officials said will seriously undermine the competitiveness of similar products from Taiwan.

Shih said Huang Chih-peng, director of the Bureau of Foreign Trade under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), is scheduled to depart for Beijing Nov. 2 at the head of a delegation of officials for the informal round of ECFA talks.

Asked whether the ECFA issue will be discussed further at a high-level meeting of the two cross strait intermediary bodies in Taiwan in December, Shih said the topic could be put on the agenda for senior negotiators from both sides to exchange views.

Shih was referring to a meeting between Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and his Chinese counterpart, Chen Yunlin, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.

The forthcoming Chiang-Chen meeting, the fourth in a series since June 2008, has a broad range of issues on its agenda and agreements are expected to be signed on fishing crew cooperation, agricultural quarantine inspection, industrial product standards, inspection and certification, and the avoidance of double taxation.

As the ECFA agreement involves complex market opening issues, Shih said it's hard to predict the moment when relevant negotiations can be concluded.

Noting that the three previous informal rounds of ECFA talks had proceeded smoothly, Shih said the government is optimistic that a formal deal can be struck next year.

Meanwhile, MOEA officials said the ministry has finalized a tentative "early harvest" list of industries and services for immediate tariff concession or market opening.

The list will cover banking and securities services, computer-related services, research and development services, logistics services and commercial aircraft maintenance services as well as upper- and mid-stream textiles, petrochemicals, machine tools and flat panels, according to the officials.

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