Taiwan continues efforts to sign trade pact with Australia: MOFA

Taipei-Taiwan continues to work to sign free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries around the world, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Tuesday, amid media reports that Australia's plans to negotiate an FTA with Taiwan has been shelved due to Chinese pressure.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) published a story Monday which quoted a source as saying that though such a plan remains official Australian government policy, it has been put on hold because the country has its hands full doing deals with Hong Kong, Indonesia, the European Union, the Pacific Alliance and trying to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The source added in the article titled "China Pressure helped put Taiwan FTA on Hold," that Australia signed an FTA with China in 2015 and it was deemed "polite to leave an elegant distance between the deal with mainland China and doing a deal with Taiwan."

The report quoted Australian senator David Leyonhjelm as issuing a warning to the government that it should not kowtow to Beijing.

"I'm concerned that the government has caved in to pressure from China and that an FTA with Taiwan is no longer on the agenda. While trade with China will always be greater, we should not abandon our values and principles," he told the AFR.

Asked to comment, MOFA spokesman Andrew Lee (???) did not directly confirm that Chinese pressure is why the deal has yet to be signed with Australia.

He said only that the government will continue its efforts to sign FTAs with all major trade partners around the globe.

"It is our country's existing trade and economic policy to sign FTAs with other countries and actively participate in all kinds of regional economic integration initiatives," he noted.

Asked to comment on the issue, the Australian Office in Taipei told local media on Tuesday to refer to remarks made by Australia's Attorney-General Senator George Brandis in the Australian Senate on Nov. 15.

The office represents Australian interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

"Taiwan is an important economic partner for Australia, and our bilateral relationship continues to expand. The government is open to the possibility of pursuing better market access arrangements and closer economic cooperation with Taiwan," Brandis said.

However, Brandis also noted that Australia recognizes Beijing instead of Taipei and "any arrangements" Australia concludes with Taiwan would be consistent with its "one-China policy."

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNA on Monday, Catherine Raper, head of Australian Office in Taipei, said her government is open to the possibility, but it is not currently top of the list, when asked to comment on the possibility of signing an FTA with Taiwan.

"The Australian government is definitely open to exploring how we can grow our market access through some arrangements between the two of us, but we haven't yet made a decision to directly go ahead to move into an FTA," she said.

"We also haven't made a decision not to. It's something we keep under review," she said, adding that it is not something the Australian government is actively pursuing right now.

According to statistics, Taiwan was Australia's 14th-largest trading partner in 2016 and its eighth-largest export market for the financial year 2016-17.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel