Ma warns that Taiwan can’t afford absence from new free-trade zone

By Enru Lin, The China Post

The China Post–President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that Taiwan can’t afford to be absent from a free-trade bloc that could be formed in upcoming trade talks among mainland China, Japan and South Korea. China, Japan, and South Korea — three of Asia’s four biggest economies — pledged Sunday to start talks on a free-trade agreement (FTA) before year’s end. If realized, the trilateral pact would create one of the world’s largest markets. This prospect has “placed pressure on Taiwan,” said Ma in a meeting yesterday with Sumio Tarui, Japan’s new top envoy to Taiwan. Bilateral FTA Ma said he hopes Japan will seriously and positively consider inking a bilateral FTA with Taiwan. Circumstances are ripe at present: bilateral relations are the best they’ve been in 40 years, while Taiwan-Japan trade is thriving. Ma also said he hopes Taiwan can join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement within eight years. “But we don’t have the necessary conditions yet. We need to work to create them,” he said. Conditions include completing follow-up negotiations under the cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) of 2010, expediting talks with the U.S. under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), and making progress on free-trade talks with Japan and South Korea. “If such conditions can be achieved, then the forces opposing our application to join the TPP will be greatly reduced,” Ma said. Becoming a TPP partner would boost Taiwan’s economy, as well as secure regional prosperity and security, said Ma. In 2011, Taiwan’s bilateral trade with China, Japan and South Korea totaled US$160 billion, US$70 billion and US$10 billion, respectively, he said. MOEA to Accelerate ECFA Follow-up Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA, 經濟部) promised to accelerate follow-up talks with China over the ECFA, which was signed June 29, 2010. On May 14, former MOEA Minister Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘) published an article that said follow-up ECFA negotiations have been unduly slow.

Yiin also claimed that a trilateral trade pact among China, Japan and South Korea could offset any advantages of the ECFA. At the Legislative Yuan yesterday, legislators across party lines asked Shih whether progress over the ECFA has in fact been too slow. Shih said that Taiwan has continued to negotiate with China on the issue since 2010. But in light of the upcoming tri-state free-trade talks, the MOEA is preparing to accelerate trade talks with China. All follow-up ECFA negotiations will be completed by 2013, he said. “The goal is clear, and we will fight for it,” he said, but did not offer further details on the ministry’s future approach.