By Joseph Yeh, The China Post
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday announced that it will be working on persuading a total of 24 countries or territories around the world to grant Taiwan passport holders visa-free entry next year as a further step to save both time and money for local travelers following the recent breakthrough when the European Union announced visa exemption for the island nation. “It will be our primary goal next year to persuade six western Balkan countries, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, and a total of 18 of the United Kingdom, Netherlands and France’s overseas territories to give us visa-waiver privileges,” James Lee, deputy director-general of the ministry’s Department of European Affairs, said yesterday at a regular briefing at MOFA. Lee further disclosed that his ministry had started to make contacts with the relevant countries and territories, adding that he is optimistic that his ministry will make further progress in 2011. The Council of the EU voted unanimously on Nov. 25 to grant visa-free treatment to Taiwan. The program allows Taiwanese visitors to enter 35 European countries, including the 25 in the Schengen Area for stays up to 90 days within a six-month period. Lee noted yesterday that the EU President and the President of the European Parliament are scheduled to sign the visa-free entry proposal on Dec. 15.
It will officially take effect in 20 days’ time after promulgation by the EU, which happen in early January in time for the upcoming Chinese New Year — good news for local travelers since it is a peak travel season for Taiwanese. Lee attributed the EU’s announcement to the pragmatic diplomatic strategy adopted by the ruling administration and Taiwan’s efforts in imposing stronger security standards for the issuance of passports. Lee noted that a new procedure that will be tested in Taiwan next year requiring visa applicants to complete passport applications in person will further boost the opportunities for Taiwan to be given visa-free privileges in the future, he said. Aside from the closer cooperation on travel with the EU, Lee also noted that Taiwan is currently working to sign trade agreements or trade enhancement measures with the union, which is Taiwan’s fourth largest trade partner. The European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ECCT) has actively urged the EU to initiate talks with Taiwan on the trade liberalization measures, according to Lee. A total number of 96 countries or territories granted Taiwan visa-exemptions, including 75 countries granting Taiwan passport holders a visa-waiver privilege and 21 countries offering Taiwanese visitors a visa on arrival. Taiwan is working to push the number to 100 by next year, to serve as a gift to the people in observance of the Republic of China’s 100th anniversary.