Taiwan is now looking to forge several free trade agreements in Asia after signing a sweeping and historic pact with China, a report said on Wednesday.
Taipei and Beijing put pen to paper on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing Tuesday, in the boldest step yet towards reconciliation between the former rivals.
Bolstered by the move, Taiwan is now setting its sights on Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand — the island’s major trading partners in South East Asia, the Economic Daily News said.
“The government hopes to sign at least the first free trade agreement with these countries before the end of 2012,” it quoted an unnamed source as saying, adding that it was also eyeing deals with Japan and the Philippines.
President Ma Ying-jeou would lead a group set up to look into such pacts, it said.
During a meeting in Taipei with a group of scholars, Ma said these trading partners previously had been wary of Beijing’s reaction and reluctant to make deals with Taiwan.
However, he said that since the pact was signed with China countris had more “intentions of negotiating free-trade agreements” with Taiwan, although he did not give a timeline.
Taiwan’s top China envoy Chiang Pin-kung, who signed the China pact in Chongqing, said Tuesday he hopes to “develop a free trade arrangement in Asia, especially with our main export markets”.
Taiwan already has free trade deals with Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua and has been pushing to forge tie-ups with other major trading partners as it tries to avoid being marginalised by the growing number of regional economic blocs.
But talks have become bogged down, largely due to pressure from Beijing, which still considers the island part of its territory, even though it has governed itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.
Taiwan has said it hopes Beijing will not interfere with its plans to seal agreements with other countries after the signing of the ECFA.
China’s vice Commerce minister Jiang Zengwei said in Chongqing Tuesday that Beijing would “make reasonable arrangements” as to Taiwan’s bid for more FTAs as long as the “one China” principle was respected.
China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, its largest investment destination, and now also home to a growing number of Taiwanese.
It is estimated that about one million people from the island live in China, especially in the Shanghai area.
They, and thousands of short-term travellers, now have access to 370 direct flights a week, whereas only a few years back all air travel had to come via Hong Kong.
Ties between Taiwan and China have improved since Ma of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008, pledging to improve trade links and allowing more Chinese tourists.