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No FTAs risks 'marginalization': minister

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- While being interviewed by local media yesterday, Economic Minister Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) said that if Taiwan cannot sign more free trade agreements (FTA) and actively participate in regional economic integration, the country risks being “marginalized.”

Chang stressed that in order to partake in regional economic integration, it is critical for Taiwan to ready itself for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The Executive Yuan has asked various government departments to finish all preparation work to join the TPP and RCEP by the end of July this year. While relevant regulations may not be finalized in such a short period of time, authorities will at a minimum decide on some general policies, such as which sectors need to be opened up.

Trade Agreements with Mainland China

The deliberation process of the cross-strait services trade agreement is currently bogged down in the Legislature, consequently delaying the negotiation of the cross-strait trade in goods agreement.

Chang said that negotiations on the goods trade agreement are expected to post significant progress before June of this year.

Public hearings on the services trade agreement are expected to conclude in March, and if the agreement can be earnestly deliberated upon across political parties in the Legislature, the process may be finished in less than one month, Chang said, adding that the process must be completed by the end of the next Legislative session.

Only after Taiwan concludes these trade agreements with mainland China can economic and trade relations with mainland China be normalized, and only then will Taiwan have real opportunities to sign FTAs and participate in regional economic integration, Chang said.

Taiwan's Economic Growth

Chang expressed his optimism regarding Taiwan's economic growth next year. He said that the global economy is showing signs of improvement, as indicated by recent positive economic indicators in Europe and the U.S. The economy this year is bound to be better than last year, Chang added.

The Council for Economic Planning and Development forecast that Taiwan would experience 3.2-percent economic growth this year. When asked if Taiwan may surpass this goal, Chang expressed his reluctance to comment on specific numbers, and stressed that GDP growth is but one reference indicator. The public is more concerned about earnings growth, trade performance, industrial growth, international competition and expansion in global markets, Chang said.

Even 5-percent economic growth would mean nothing if the public does not experience earnings growth or improvements in living standards, Chang said.

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