TAIPEI Taiwan has leveraged its goal of a landmark trade deal with China to open talks with Japan, the United States and other powers on free trade deals expected to boost the long-isolated island economy, officials said on Friday.
Appealing to countries that have been barred by Taiwan's political rival China from signing FTAs with the island, Taiwan has hinted to wary foreign governments that Beijing is unlikely to protest once the two sides sign their own trade deal.
Taiwan has talked to Japan, the United States and Singapore, with Europe and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also on the list, Hu Chung-ying, deputy minister of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, told Reuters in an interview.
China, which seeks to limit Taiwan's international profile, has shown no signs of protesting, officials say. It previously asked other nations to avoid FTAs with the island at the risk of jeopardizing their own ties with the massive Chinese market.
Taiwan's export-reliant $390 billion economy has said it lags emerging competitors such as South Korea that enjoy lower trade tariffs because of their FTAs with major world trade partners.
"We've approached target economies to let them know we are really interested in doing this and invite their consent to start discussion with us," said Huang Chih-peng, director general of Taiwan's Bureau of Foreign Trade, in a separate interview.
Taiwan and China, following two years of detente after six decades of hostilities, are negotiating an economic cooperation framework agreement to drop tariffs in hundreds of sectors.
The deal is expected to boost Taiwan's economy and let Beijing show the island political goodwill, with hopes of eventual reunification.
"We're telling the other side that this is not just for you, it's also to strive for talks with other countries, that we are already door knocking," Huang said.
The United States is Taiwan's top trading partner, accounting for 17 percent of all imports and exports, according to foreign trade bureau statistics. Japan is second at 16 percent. Hong Kong is third and mainland China next.
Potential FTA partners will see from the China-Taiwan trade deal, expected to be signed by June, that political tensions have eased, Huang said.
Beijing claims sovereignty over the self-ruled island more than 60 years after the Chinese civil war, but China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has brokered landmark trade agreements with China since taking office in 2008.
(Editing by Paul Tait)