Taipei, Beijing to ink services trade pact: China minister


BEIJING — Taiwan and China will soon sign an agreement on trade in services because talks on opening doors to each other’s services sector are nearly finished, China’s minister of commerce said Friday.

The negotiations “have basically entered the final stage. So the signing is expected to happen soon,” said Chen Deming at a press conference on the sidelines of the 12th National People’s Congress, which opened in Beijing on March 5.

The planned accord is one of the issues being addressed in follow-up talks to the cross-Taiwan Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a preferential trade agreement signed in 2010.

Though the two sides agreed not to disclose the details of the talks before they reached a conclusion, Chen said he could disclose that talks on other pending issues, such as trade in goods and a bilateral dispute-resolving mechanism, could be completed “by the end of this year or early next year if the difficulties are not too big.”

Then the two sides “will be able to have an agreement that is a high-level free trade agreement,” he said, describing such a pact as helpful for the economic development of the two sides.

The Chinese minister noted, however, that talks under the ECFA are different from those under other free trade agreements.

The ECFA talks are conducted between two World Trade Organization (WTO) members under the “one China” condition, he said.

“They must be in-line with the ‘one China’ principle and meet those set by the WTO at the same time,” Chen said, towing his country’s line that Taiwan is not a sovereign state.

Many Chinese leaders believe, however, that China “should yield more benefits to Taiwan” to account for differences in the two economies’ structure and scale.

The mainland also hopes that Taiwan will open its market to products from China that it normally imports from other countries and areas, he said.

Asked about Taiwan’s concerns that China might offer preferential tariff treatment to South Korea and Japan in a free trade deal they are negotiating separately, Chen said cuts in tariffs in those talks “will not go beyond (tariff cuts) in the ECFA.”

“I don’t think there should be any such concerns,” Chen said.

He has been tagged as a candidate to take over as president of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, an intermediary body handling cross-strait exchanges in the absence of official ties.

Asked about the possibility by CNA on Friday, Chen said “we will know that in the future.”

“Our country has three tasks, which are modernization, unification and peaceful development. I’m working to achieve those goals,” Chen said.

Meanwhile in Taipei, Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Lin Join-sane, Taiwan’s top negotiator with China, agreed that talks on trade in services are nearly finished.