Taiwan talks up trans-Pacific trade pact after exclusion from world's largest free-trade bloc RCEP

Taiwan has played down the impact of RCEP on its economy. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Trade-dependent Taiwan has made relatively good progress towards joining the revamped version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it is awaiting clearer rules on membership, the island's chief trade negotiator said on Monday (Nov 16).

While Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, many countries are wary of signing trade deals with Taipei, fearing objections from China which claims the democratic island as its own territory. Taiwan has sought greater access to multilateral deals.

Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies formed the world's largest free-trade bloc on Sunday: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), of which China is a member country. The bloc does not include Taiwan or the United States.

Tech-powerhouse Taiwan has instead been angling to join the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), signed in 2018, again without the US.

Taiwan's Minister Without Portfolio John Deng, who leads trade talks, told reporters that they had expressed willingness to join the CPTPP.

Mr Deng said that economies "that have made relatively good progress (in applying for membership) include Britain, Taiwan and Thailand" and that "Taiwan's hard work has been welcomed by many".

"They hope for us to stay in touch," he said, adding that Taiwan is waiting for the CPTPP grouping to make clearer rules about membership application.

The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when US President Donald Trump withdrew.

It was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and links Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Taiwan has played down the impact of RCEP on its economy, saying that 70 per cent of its exports to RCEP member countries, mostly electronic products, are already tariff-free.

Taiwan hopes eventually to sign a free trade deal with the US, its main arms seller and most important international backer, and the two will hold high-level economic talks at the end of this week.

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