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June 27, 2017

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Pact passage delays could hurt chances of future FTAs: Duh

TAIPEI -- As lawmakers entered partisan shouting matches Wednesday over a long-stalled service trade pact with China, the government cautioned that further delays in endorsing the pact could hurt Taiwan's chances of future free trade agreements with other countries.

Deputy Economics Minister Duh Tyzz-jiun warned that many countries that have expressed interest in FTAs with Taiwan have recently adopted reserved attitudes, leaving him worried that the chances of securing future trade deals are becoming slimmer.

His comments came the same day that ruling and opposition lawmakers failed to hold an orderly meeting to discuss the cross-strait service trade agreement inked between Taipei and Beijing last June. Lawmakers were set to convene Thursday to continue reviewing the pact, which needs legislative endorsement before it can take effect.

The deputy minister compared Taiwan's drawn out deliberations unfavorably to South Korea, which on Tuesday signed a free trade deal with Canada, the 12th FTA for the growing economy, covering tariff removals for 97.5 percent of goods within a decade.

Taiwan by comparison has signed seven trade pacts, according to economics ministry data, but none with major trade partners except for the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China.

The South Korea-Canada deal could have a long-term impact on exports of Taiwan-made vehicle parts and metal and plastic products, Taiwan's economics ministry has said.

Duh noted that the Canada is the destination for less than one percent of South Korean exports, but Seoul still saw an opportunity or which it was willing to eliminate tariffs on 81.9 percent of goods, including sacrifices in agriculture, to secure an outlet for locally made cars.

If we want to pursue the path (of economic liberalization), we have to do it seriously," he stressed.

In his opinion, South Korea's biggest difference with Taiwan is that it knows what it wants, and it knows what it has to give up to get that.

While South Korea is ahead of Taiwan in securing FTAs, Duh said that if Taiwan can get into the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade bloc, in which Canada is a negotiating party, it would be a boost for Taiwan.

At this point, however, the economics ministry's goal of signing it least one FTA this year is seemingly getting further away amid bickering between opposing parties.

"If the service trade deal (with China) cannot clear the Legislature, then forget about future (pacts) because there may not be any," Duh said.

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