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'Good news' on Singapore, NZ trade pact expected: Ma

TAIPEI--President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that “good news” could be heard by the end of this year with regard to Taiwan's negotiations with Singapore and New Zealand on the signing of bilateral free trade agreements.

Raising the issue while receiving a Lion Clubs delegation, Ma said “the path has become wider and wider” for Taiwan since it signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in June 2010.

Both Singapore and New Zealand agreed to open free trade talks with Taiwan after that, Ma said, adding that the trade pacts with the two countries, combined with subsequent arrangements under the ECFA, will allow Taiwan to compete on a fair footing with other countries.

He said Taiwan will further work to sign similar agreements with its major trade partners, including the United States and the European Union.

Ma said the government has been working to overcome Taiwan's diplomatic isolation and strengthen its relations with other countries.

So far, Taiwanese nationals have gained visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 129 countries and territories worldwide, although only 23 of them maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, he said.

With the travel privileges enjoyed by Taiwanese nationals having become the envy of Chinese residents, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently received more than 100 applications from People's Republic of China citizens for Republic of China passports, Ma said.

According to the ministry, PRC citizens with permanent residency in another country can apply for R.O.C. passports through Taiwan's overseas missions.

On economic issues, Ma said the government is encouraging China-based Taiwanese businessmen to return and invest in Taiwan as part of efforts to boost the stagnant economy.

The government is also increasing its investment in public construction projects, such as the NT$2.3 trillion Taoyuan Aerotropolis project, he said.

In addition, he went on, the country's first free economic demonstration zone — the expansion of the existing free port zone — will be established in Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan, which will help enhance the country's competitiveness.

He also reiterated his pledge to address the problem of stagnant wages.

According to Ma, the problem can be attributed to Taiwan's industrial structure which he said focuses on low margin contract manufacturing instead of high-margin innovation and value-added products.

Industry should make a shift toward specializing in key components and precision equipment so as to make Taiwan hard to replace in the global market, he said.

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