A free trade agreement (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and
Taiwan could be sealed in about two years time, a visiting Member of
the European Parliament (MEP) said Wednesday in Taiwan.
The Dutch parliamentarian told the CNA that while FTA negotiations
were always complicated and painstaking, if both sides worked hard
enough, they could reach an agreement within twenty-four months.
Han van Baalen, who is also vice chairman of the EP-Taiwan
Friendship Group and president of Liberal International, was invited
by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit Taiwan for four days,
starting June 13.
Van Baalen, a strong advocate of Taiwan's active participation in
international affairs, said he was worried that if the negotiations
did not begin soon, Taiwan's economic influence would be severely
threatened by the neighboring countries of South Korea and Japan.
South Korea and the EU sealed an FTA last year and Japan is set to
begin policy discussions with the EU, possibly in September.
"If Taiwan is left out, you would be in a negative position
because produce and products from South Korea and Japan would come
easier into the European market, and maybe cheaper," van Baalen said.
The parliamentarian said he expected the EU-Taiwan talks to get
off the ground in 2012 but he identified some potential "stumbling
blocks" that could hinder or delay the negotiation process.
Some of these issues are the exclusion or inclusion of certain
trade items and reaching consensus on matters such as tariffs,
legislation, trade barriers and security checks, he said.
"These things take time," he said, noting that it took South Korea
about five years to conclude its agreement with the EU.
The negotiations between the EU and Taiwan might take less time,
but if both sides work hard enough, two years is a very promising
goal, he said.
The current preparatory stage involves the mapping of industries
that would most likely be affected by the EU-Taiwan trade agreement,
He indicated that the chances of the EU Parliament approving such
an agreement were good.
"We should have the agreement, and I'm backed by the majority of
the European Parliament."
Most EU parliamentarians support the idea of good relations with
Taiwan, he said, citing as an example the parliament's approval in
2010 of Taiwan's inclusion in the EU visa waiver program.
"As many as 90 percent of the 736 members agreed to the visa
waiver program with Taiwan, so there is a very large consensus in the
EU Parliament that we should maintain a very good relationship with
As for China's influence in the development of relations between
the EU and Taiwan, he said it was not a factor.
"The visa waiver has nothing to do with Beijing. The free trade
agreement has nothing to do with Beijing," he said. "Beijing, as it
has started trade liberalization with Taiwan, is in no position to
stop the EU from forming similar economic ties with Taiwan."
Taiwan's policy to establish an Economic Cooperation Framework
Agreement (ECFA) with China was a "wise" one, he said.
"It is beneficial and helpful because Beijing looses the argument
for opposing Taiwan forming such agreements with other countries, such
as the U.S. and EU."
Asked whether the European Parliament planned to lift the arms
embargo against China, van Baalen said "there is not a very big
chance" of that happening because there are member states that oppose
He said he personally was against such a move.
"As long as Beijing leaves open that the problems they have with
Taiwan can be solved also in the end, in the last resort, by military
means, I am against lifting the arms embargo, " he said. "It is a very
serious thing that you direct missiles at a country with which you are
negotiating freer trade."
China should look toward a more democratic system of rule, he
"Democracy is on the move and dictatorship is on the decease," he said.
"The communist party should accept that the days of a one party state is
something of a political stone age. It should end."
By Nancy Liu