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Taiwan's businesses urged to be patient on ASEAN trade deal

2011/07/16 22:10:16

Manila, July 16 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs is asking the country's businesses to wait patiently for Taiwan to sign economic cooperation pacts with other Southeast Asian countries because Singapore and China are the trade negotiation priorities at present.

In a meeting in the Philippines Saturday with Taiwanese businesses operating in Manila, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang said trade talks generally take time and the priority at the moment is negotiating a free trade-like deal with Singapore.

Citing Taiwan's Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China as an example, Shih said the deal's early harvest program covered only 539 products but took one year and 100 people to work out before the pact was signed in June 2010, he noted.

There are over 8,000 items being discussed in follow-up negotiations with China, and substantive talks are also being held with Singapore, making it hard to give the necessary attention to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Shih said.

"The government is devoting it greatest effort to the two areas, and we have to wait until these talks have reached a certain stage before focusing on other countries," Shih said.

The minister acknowledged, however, that ASEAN was an area with which Taiwan needed to forge a free trade agreement or economic cooperation agreement.

The economic bloc, populated by over 500 million people, is now Taiwan's second largest export market. It buys 16 percent of all of the country's exports, second only to China's 41 percent, Shih said.

Shih arrived in Manila Friday for the 17th Taiwan-Philippine economic cooperation meeting.

He attended the minister-level session of the meeting soon after his arrival. On Thursday, Taiwan's Deputy Economics Minister Francis Liang and his Philippine counterpart jointly hosted the vice minister-level session.

According to Shih, the two countries reached agreement on many issues, including that the Philippines would give Taiwanese businesses operating in its Subic and Clark special economic zones duty-free status and set up a single window to deal with visa issues.

In addition, the two countries also signed letters of intent to pursue cooperative initiatives -- one on the development of electric-powered vehicles and the other for the cross-border exchange of electronic certificates of origin (eCO).

Shih flew back to Taiwan after concluding the two-day meeting Saturday.

(By Emerson T. Lin and Elizabeth Hsu)