Taipei, March 31 (CNA) Although the proposed cross-strait trade agreement could present challenges to relations between Taiwan and the Philippines, it could also open opportunities, the Philippines' top diplomat in Taiwan told CNA in an interview Wednesday.
Ties between the Philippines and Taiwan are at their best in years after strained relations due to disputes over aviation rights during 1998-2000 and later the Spratly Islands, said Antonio Basilio, managing director and resident representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) -- the Philippines' official authority in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties.
Taiwan and its closest neighbor to the south not only have signed memorandums of understanding ranging from labor, trade and investment, science and technology, and transfer of criminals, but the Philippines is also one of the few ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries that conduct regular ministerial visits to Taiwan, Basilio said.
The Philippines also attends three annual meetings on joint economic relations, science and technology, and labor relations with Taiwan, he said.
Responding to a question about the possible impact of the proposed cross-Taiwan Strait economic cooperation framework agreement, which aims to relax tariffs and trade regulations between Taiwan and China and is expected to be signed in June, Basilio said that while the agreement could have an impact on the Philippines' economy, it also presents new prospects.
"Actually we've already felt (the impact) even before the negotiations began, " he said, noting that when cross-strait travel restrictions were relaxed, the number of tourist arrivals from Taiwan to the Philippines dropped.
"We foresee that when most of the restriction to investment from the mainland is lifted, it may result in closing and moving (to China) of some Taiwanese plants. That means less employment of our workers in Taiwan," he said.
However, Basilio pointed out that the agreement could also present opportunities for the Philippines, which will be able to expand the concept of "economic corridor" to include China. The Philippines can also provide skilled labor like teachers and engineers for Taiwanese businesses aspiring to move up the value chain with high-end products.
The economic corridor is a project aimed at linking economic zones between Taiwan and the Philippines to make the Philippines "Taiwan's entry point to the ASEAN market, " taking advantage of the fact products processed in the Philippines can be seen as ASEAN products and enjoy duty-free privileges.
For Taiwanese businesses that also operate in China, it might be possible to find a mechanism to help transport products from one place to the other, depending on their needs, he said.
"We're watching the situation (of the negotiations) very closely," he said.
The MECO would like to facilitate more two-way investment, Basilio said. However, like Taiwan, China is also a major attraction for Philippine corporations.
"We have not been able to attract bigger companies, but we're successful in attracting the small- and medium-sized businesses, " he said.
Notable Taiwan investors in the Philippines include computer maker ACER, information and communication service provider Wistron Corporation, automaker Yulon Motors and some LCD manufacturers.
Basilio would like to see Taiwan relax part of its trade regulations, which "hampered our ability to export fresh food and meat products to Taiwan." He would also like to resolve the long-standing issue of high brokerage and service fees for Filipino workers in Taiwan by creating a mechanism that allows employers to directly hire Filipino workers.
He said his office is collaborating with Taiwanese counterparts to speed up the judicial process for Taiwanese fishermen detained for illegally entering Philippine waters.
Reflecting on the 10 years he has served in the office, Basilio said that he was most proud of restoring relations to the level they previously held. He added that he was happy with the signing of agreements in various areas and steady development of many cooperation projects.
Looking ahead, the seasoned diplomat said he intends to complete rules and regulations regarding the economic corridor to enable products and workers to move freely between the countries. His office would also like to make efforts to increase the Philippines' share in Taiwan's automotive parts market. (By Chris Wang) enditem/bc