CHINA> Taiwan, HK, Macao
Cross-Straits talks to focus on economy
By Xie Yu (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-15 07:43

Top envoys from across the Straits will hold new talks on economic issues in December to push for closer cooperation, an official announced yesterday.

The meeting, the fourth of its kind, will take place in the central Taiwan city of Taichung, said Fan Liqing, spokeswoman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

Chen Yunlin, president of the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), will meet his counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, Fan said.

Chiang, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), and Chen held their first talks in Beijing in June 2008.

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They agreed at their meeting in Nanjing this April to focus the next meeting on four topics: avoidance of double taxation, agricultural products inspection, fisheries co-operation and industry standards certification.

Chiang said in early October that his next meeting with Chen will focus on areas of tourism, food hygiene and financial affairs, as well as protection of the rights of Taiwan businessmen operating on the mainland.

It is unknown if the long-expected economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) will be addressed at the upcoming meeting.

Fan said academic studies on the ECFA across the Straits had been basically completed and the talks could be launched before the end of this year.

But she declined to comment when asked if the new round of talks between ARATS and SEF will cover the agreement.

Zhang Guanhua, deputy director of Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he is optimistic about both sides reaching a consensus on the signing of ECFA by the end of the year.

"But time seems to be pressing for both sides to sign a formal agreement of ECFA at the Taichung meeting," he told China Daily.

Fan said yesterday that financial regulatory bodies on the mainland and in Taiwan have been "actively exchanging ideas" on signing a memorandum of understanding on financial regulations.

"The two sides have made smooth progress and will try to sign it as soon as possible," she said.

Zhang said signing the memorandum is much easier than signing the ECFA, and can also promote the realization of the agreement.

Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou was earlier quoted by "legislators" of the ruling Kuomintang as saying that an ECFA will be signed next year at the latest.

Taiwan's biggest opposition Democratic Progressive Party has repeatedly voiced strong opposition to the proposed agreement, citing fears that it will compromise Taiwan's "sovereignty" and job market.

However, Taiwan's "ministry of economic affairs" warned recently that Taiwan's GDP could fall by an estimated 0.17 percent if the two sides fail to sign an ECFA by Jan 1, 2010, when a free-trade pact between the Chinese mainland and 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations comes into effect, Taipei-based China Post reported.

Fan yesterday also expressed hope for setting up a military trust mechanism across the Straits at an early date.

She made the remarks when asked to comment on Ma's claim that Taiwan "will not ignore the military threat from the mainland despite warming ties" during his inspection to the island's test-firing of medium-range surface-to-surface missiles on Tuesday afternoon.