TAIPEI: Taiwan must open its markets wider to secure free trade deals which are badly needed in the face of stiff regional competition, President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday.
His appeal came as a controversial services sector trade agreement with China is stalled in parliament.
In a New Year address, Ma said regional and bilateral free trade agreements were now playing greater roles than the World Trade Organisation.
He said Taiwan had been slow to follow the trend and could end up marginalised and struggling to compete with rivals such as South Korea and Japan.
Ma, who initiated political detente with former bitter rival China, said regional economic integration required trade-offs.
“We have to abide by the principles of equality and reciprocity. If we expect other countries to deregulate and open their markets to trade and investment from Taiwan, we ourselves have to do the same,” he said.
Ma said Taiwanese must not be “overly concerned” at trade deals, noting that the agricultural sector survived the impact of market-opening when the island joined the WTO in 2002.
Under the service trade agreement signed in June, China will open 80 of its service sectors to Taiwanese companies, while Taiwan will allow Chinese investment in 64 such sectors.
The pact is a follow-up to a sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers between China and Taiwan.
Ma’s Kuomintang government says the services pact will boost the economy but the opposition Democratic Progressive Party says it will hurt smaller services companies.
Ma said the trade pacts with China are part of efforts to bolster the economy, and his administration hopes to join proposed multinational free trade blocs such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.