TAIPEI — President Ma Ying-jeou said Thursday Taiwan could sign an historic trade deal with China as early as June and that it would bring major benefits to the whole Asian region.
In an interview with AFP, Ma said the framework agreement was just a first step, but that he was confident it would lead to deeper trade agreements with China and continue to lower tensions between the former enemies.
"We do have some difficulties but we are trying our best to make that happen, hoping to get it done before June," said Ma.
He said the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) provided just a small package of measures which were "urgent and necessary".
But he warned that all Taiwan's regional competitors had spent the past 10 years signing vital free trade agreements that were leading to the island's isolation in the Asia region.
"Taiwan is gradually being left out in the cold," said Ma.
"If we don't catch up with the changing situation we may face a very serious future with our exports, the lifeline of our economy, going to meet tariff barriers in almost every country."
Ma's government has given few details about ECFA, but said it will include a list of industries that will benefit first from preferential tariffs, as well as measures on protecting intellectual property rights.
Since being elected in 2008 Ma has placed a top priority on lifting the island's economy through improved ties with mainland China, which still claims Taiwan as sovereign territory and threatens reunification by force.
Ma says the trade accord will boost economic growth and create new jobs through greater trade, but opponents say stronger competition from China will cost jobs and the accord will make the island more dependent on the mainland.
Taiwan is currently emerging from its worst economic crisis in more than half a century, as its export-dependent economy has been hurt severely by the global downturn.
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