Taiwan must step up its efforts to liberalise trade, academics and government officials said yesterday at an international conference held to mark 10 years of Taiwan’s participation in the WTO.
Taiwan has benefited greatly since its accession to the WTO in 2002 and the country now needs to find “a renewed determination” in the world trend of liberalised trade, vice minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Ko said.
“There must be no delay,” Ko said.
He said that Taiwan is standing at “a turning point” where it could choose to hop on the bandwagon of liberalisation and secure its future economic growth, or face marginalisation and the challenges that would bring.
It is “make-or-break” time for Taiwan, Ko said.
Council for Economic Planning and Development minister Yiin Chii-ming said free-trade agreements are not the only vehicles for regional integration – other forms of cooperative partnerships can also boost bilateral ties.
Taiwan is now at a “critical juncture” in its economic development and it needs to open up to the world using an innovative approach, Yiin said.
In addition to seeking to sign trade pacts with various partners, Taiwan should strengthen its substantial relations with such partners, said Wu Chung-shu, president of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.
During the process of developing trade, signing a trade accord is important, but it can be a slow process, and therefore having actual engagement and cooperation is more important, Wu said.
“As Taiwan enjoys close relations with Japan and China, the European Union, which wants to further develop trade with China, has shown great interest in cooperating with Taiwan,” Wu told reporters.
“Taiwan plays an important and critical role,” Wu said, adding that the country should continue upgrading its industry and moving toward liberalisation.
Since Taiwan inked the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in June 2010, it has been looking to engage in free-trade agreements with other nations to counter rival South Korea’s moves to sign free-trade pacts with the US and the EU, and possibly China and Japan in the future.
Patrick Messerlin, director of the Paris-based Groupe d’Economie Mondiale at Sciences Po, suggested that Taiwan could follow the approach adopted by South Korea and start with small areas and issues, like “piling up bricks.”
The negotiations for an EU-South Korea free-trade agreement were launched in May 2007, with both sides officially inking the pact on October 6, 2010.
In addition, the academic said what concerns Europe most is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, a multilateral free-trade agreement that is being negotiated by Australia, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and the US.
“It is like the WTO version 2.0,” he said, adding that such regional integration would pose a threat not only to Europe, but also to other countries that are left out.