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Wu talks of possibilities in TIFA talks

Taipei Times, Taiwan

Wu talks of possibilities in TIFA talks

By Flora Wang, Staff Reporter

6 December 2010

With the US and South Korea close to signing a free-trade agreement (FTA), Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) yesterday said Taiwan and the US could negotiate item by item in the next round of talks for the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

Taipei and Washington would not necessarily have to sign the deal as a package, Wu said, as it was unlikely both sides would reach a consensus on everything included in the TIFA.

Negotiations on the trade pact with the US would be conducted under the spirit of putting the nation’s interests first, Wu said.

“We are going to negotiate [the pact], but we need to consider Taiwan’s interests,” he said.

Washington and Seoul concluded four days of intense negotiations on an FTA in Columbia, Maryland, on Friday, and US President Barack Obama has said he intends to present the deal to US Congress early next year.

The trade pact, which would be the largest after the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, would lift tariffs on about 95 percent of traded goods between the US and South Korea within five years.

Under the renegotiated agreement, the US would be allowed to keep its 2.5 percent tariff rate for five years, while South Korea would immediately halve its tariffs to 4 percent, before both are brought down to zero.

Those developments were expected to bring pressure on Taiwanese businesses, Wu said.

The FTA means that South Korea — Taiwan’s major rival in the global market — will be in a better position to compete against Taiwan, Wu said, adding that South Korea had been alarmed and felt pressure after Taiwan signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China earlier this year.

Although negotiations on the TIFA had been stalled for a while, the US had recently shown willingness to return to the table, the premier said.

On Thursday, American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt reportedly said after meeting Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) that negotiations could resume next month or in February.

At a separate setting yesterday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) said the TIFA talks would certainly take place before the end of the year, albeit a bit later than expected.

“Just sitting at the negotiating table is easier than working out an agenda and sorting out barriers beforehand,” Yang said, adding that the new round of TIFA talks would most likely take place in Taipei.

Signed in September 1994, TIFA is a framework that provides an official channel for Taiwan-US dialogue on trade and economic issues, but the two sides have not held any talks since 2007 mainly as a result of a conflict over a Taiwanese ban on US beef imports.