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June 29, 2017

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Taiwan, Singapore begin free trade agreement discussions

TAIPEI, Taiwan and Singapore have begun talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) that they plan to sign within one year, according to economic officials.

Last August, Singapore announced its intention to ink an FTA with Taiwan, becoming the first country to do so after Taiwan and China signed an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) in June 2010.

Taiwan believes the ECFA will pave the way for similar deals with other countries as China is not likely put up obstruction to such efforts.

Apart from Singapore, the Philippines and India have also taken steps toward initiating free trade talks with Taiwan.

"Taiwan and Singapore have indeed launched negotiations on the economic partnership deal and there has been considerable progress," Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang told CNA recently.

However, he did not say when exactly a conclusion could be expected on the FTA, which is being called the Agreement between Singapore and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu on Economic Partnership (ASTEP).

"Taiwan and Singapore have agreed not to say too much before a consensus is reached," he added.

However, economic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the ministry aims to step up the talks to conclude the deal within a year.

The Taiwan-Singapore talks are focusing on tariffs, the opening of the service sector and economic partnerships, the officials said.

The two sides will encounter small obstacles in their talks on agriculture because Singapore has virtually no agricultural sector, according to the officials.

However, through the FTA with Singapore, Taiwan may be able to enter the agricultural markets in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, they said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan will not benefit much from tariff reductions as Singapore already has zero tariffs on the importation of most industrial goods, the officials said.

Taiwan is focusing mainly on the opening of Singapore's financial sector, which has many restrictions on foreign financial service providers, they added.

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