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Mainland, Taiwan to bridge Straits with economic pact

The Chinese mainland and Taiwan yesterday agreed to start formal talks on signing an economic cooperation agreement by the end of this year.

Wang Yi, director of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, said both could exchange views on the deal in talks between the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) "if they consider it necessary".

The comments were made during a two-day cross-Straits symposium in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, which opened yesterday. 

ARATS-SEF talks are the only semi-official channel for both sides to negotiate over cross-Straits affairs and directly affect policy. They will hold their fourth round of talks since last year in Taiwan's Taichung in mid- or late December.

Wang said the mainland is also willing to "further interact with Taiwan to solve problems concerning cross-Straits economic exchanges and push the economic relations to a new level".

San Gee, "vice-minister" of Taiwan's "Council for Economic Planning and Development", replied that Taiwan would make "positive responses" to the mainland's offers.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) proposed by Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou in February, covers tax reductions, market access, investment and trade. It is aimed at giving Taiwan "fair opportunity" after an economic cooperation agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations takes effect next year.

Experts are optimistic about the negotiations and said the agreement is very likely to be signed in the first half of next year.

"It should be in the first half of 2010 since later will be the elections for special municipalities heads, and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party will try to draw attention by setting obstacles and repeating its stance that the ECFA hurts Taiwan's 'sovereignty'," said Wu Nengyuan, director of the institute of Taiwan studies at the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences. 

Taiwan media reported people were concerned the mainland would put off negotiations over the deal to express dissatisfaction over the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Taiwan. 

"Wang's speech has made the mainland's stand clear. Taiwan should do their homework to cope with the opposition on the island," Wu said.

Li Fei, a professor at Xiamen University, agreed and said: "It could be signed around April, during the fifth round of ARATS-SEF talks." 

The ECFA will create a win-win situation, with mainland investment and products gaining easier access to the island and both sides realizing complementation, he said.

"This will mark the beginning of cross-Straits economic integration, and will pave the way for political integration," Li added.

Cross-Straits ties have improved markedly since last May when Ma took office, with the establishing of direct mail, transport and trade links soon after. In July, mainland companies were approved to invest in Taiwan, while a dozen firms have already opened branches on the island.


(Source from China Daily)