Taipei, Aug. 20 (CNA) Free trade talks between Taiwan and Singapore are going smoothly, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang Monday said, adding that both sides "have reached a common consensus on most of the chapters and articles."
Bilateral talks on the Agreement between Singapore and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu on Economic Partnership, better known as the ASTEP, have been proceeding smoothly, Shih told reporters, but declined to give further details.
Touting the ASTEP as a high-quality trade accord covering many aspects of bilateral trade, investment, financial market access, tariff reductions, the minister said it is only natural that it takes two to three years to conclude the pact.
The two countries announced in August 2010 that they would conduct a feasibility study on the pact and start ASTEP talks in 2011.
If it is signed, the pact will be Taiwan's first fully fledged free trade agreement with a major trading partner, according to the ministry.
Singapore recognizes China, but has always maintained close substantive ties with Taiwan.
In addition, Shih emphasized that Taiwan has been "actively" probing possible avenues to participate in regional economic integration in line with the global trend.
Taiwan cannot afford to be excluded and must focus on promoting regional partnerships, he said, adding that the government and local think tanks have been working on feasibility studies on trade pacts with India, the Philippines, Israel and Indonesia.
Asked if there were obstacles caused by China, Shih said: "We have to face any kind of international political restraint and deal with it."
(By James Lee)