Taipei, May 8 (CNA) Local industrialists called Tuesday for greater efforts by the government to seek free trade deals in the face of major headway by Taiwan's major regional competitor, South Korea, on free trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States and the European Union.
The Taipei-based Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, and the General Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of China, said at a public hearing that the government should set up a Cabinet-level inter-ministerial task force to conduct talks with the country's major trading partners on the free trade issue.
In addition to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Council of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Department of Health should play their parts in pushing for free trade deals, said Jack Chia, the chamber's adviser.
"Trade negotiations are not just an issue of trade; they are an issue of integration," Chia said at the hearing held by lawmakers to discuss the impact of the U.S.-South Korea FTA and Taiwan's response measures.
He also urged the government to loosen regulations to pave the way for further trade liberalization.
The U.S.-South Korea FTA took effect in March, following an FTA it signed with the European Union that came into force last year. South Korea has also recently initiated free trade negotiations with China.
Taiwan signed the Economic Framework Cooperation Agreement (ECFA) with China in 2010 and is negotiating an economic partnership pact with Singapore, but its efforts to resume trade talks with the U.S. have been stymied by a running dispute over U.S. beef imports containing the livestock leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.
At the hearing, Vice Economics Minister Francis Kuo-Hsin Liang said the beef issue must be resolved before the two sides can re-open talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which he said would help Taiwan's bid to achieve an FTA with the U.S.
According to government statistics, the U.S.-South Korea FTA could affect 9.8 percent of Taiwan's total exports to the U.S. per year, or some US$3.4 billion.
The sectors facing the most severe impact include textiles, plastics and machinery, economics officials said.
In the face of these challenges, the government's response measures include expanding Taiwan's presence in emerging countries and helping upgrade and transform domestic industries to increase industrial value, the officials said.
(By Elaine Hou)