Taiwan's Economy Minister Lin Hsin-yi addresses the media after members of the World Trade Organization cleared Taiwan for admission, Tuesday, Sept.18 in Taipei. Photo by AP
By Naomi Koppel/AP
Members of the World Trade Organization formally cleared Taiwan for admission on Sept. 18, a day after China was approved, fueling hopes of a closer relationship between the two feuding neighbors.
We do believe that the WTO could serve as a very good forum, a very good channel, for us to enter into bilateral discussion with mainland China on economic and trade issues, Chen Rei Long, Taiwanese deputy economy minister, told reporters. The carefully prearranged admission of Taiwan the day after China was under a long-standing accord that respected the sensitivities of the two Asian neighbors.
Terms for the admission of Taiwan were completed 18 months ago, but the final decision was delayed because of the 1992 understanding that China would be the first to join the body that sets rules on international trade.
Beijing claims that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, and at first objected to Taiwans joining at all. It was finally agreed that Taiwan could join because it is a separate customs territory with different rules on importing goods. It will not be regarded as a country in its own right.
Hong Kong and Macau, both recently handed back to China, are also separate members of the WTO.
Karl Falkenberg, European Union chief negotiator, said the deal could go a long way to improving relations between China and Taiwan.
It isnt by miracle a sudden change, but it certainly is the beginning of a new relationship between the two Chinas, he said.
WTO Director-General Mike Moore said the past two days had been probably the most exhilarating of his time in office.
History is being made and things will not be the same, he said.
I do think it sends a message of peoples commitment to a world order run by rules, an order where the definition of civilized behavior is settling differences through the rule of law.
U.S. negotiator Jeffrey Bader also welcomed the deal, saying it will benefit the United States, Taiwan and other members of the multilateral trading system.
The 142 WTO governments approved a 1,200-page document setting out the terms for Taiwans membership.
Among the commitments Taiwan has made are major reductions in import tariffs by 35.6 percent on agricultural products and by 31.2 percent on industrial goods.
Much of the reduction will be made immediately, with the rest of the changes by 2004. In the automobile sector, Taiwan will reduce tariffs by 17.5 percent within nine years of joining.
Last weeks decision opens the way for both China and Taiwan to be formally approved for membership at a meeting of trade ministers planned for Doha, Qatar, in November. There, too, China would be considered first.
The two would then become full members of the WTO after ratification by their own parliaments. It is possible that China could be a full member by the end of this year, while Taiwan would likely join early next year.
Taiwan held the China seat at the United Nations until 1971, when the U.N. General Assembly voted to oust the Taiwan government and replace it with the mainland Peoples Republic.
Chinas opposition to Taiwans status as a country in its own right has blocked its membership of the United Nations and other international bodies, but Beijing has made exceptions for bodies that deal exclusively with economic issues.