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Address by President Ma at the 2013 Europe Day Dinner

Chairman Izzo of the ECCT,
Representative Laplanche of the EETO,
Distinguished Guests,
The members of the Cabinet of the Republic of China,
Mayor Hau of Taipei City,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good evening! Buongiorno a tutti. ("Good evening, everyone" in Italian) I'm very delighted tonight to join you for the celebration of the Europe Day Dinner. So I want to say, on behalf of the government and people, to every one of you: "Happy birthday, ECCT!" When I came in, Chairman Izzo mentioned that I went to Italy to attend the investiture ceremony of Pope Francis in March. I did, thanks to the Italian government, which gave me the needed visa. That gave me a very interesting experience. The last time I was in Europe was seven years ago. After a seven-year departure, I really appreciated the beauty of the City of Rome, and the very amicable and friendly personality of the pope. But one thing that impressed me the most is the way I was greeted in the Roman airport. Actually, one of the protocol officers who came from the Holy See — came to greet the flight — when we walked into the VIP room, I noticed that he spoke English with a very typical American accent. So I asked him, "Are you American?" He said, "No, it's even better! I'm Canadian." Well, this is the first time that I understand how Holy See people, how humorous they can be!

According to the latest report of the Business Risk Service, Taiwan was ranked number three as far as the investment environment is concerned, only after that of Singapore and Switzerland. I'm sure you all know the European Union as a whole is the largest source of foreign investment for Taiwan, with a figure of more than US$30 billion dollars. And I think this is time for Taiwan to invest in the European Union. But of course, something can be done at the same time. The European Union representative just told us that the European Union, after having an FTA with Korea, is going to have one with Japan, and with the United States in the not so distant future. So one of the few countries missing is the Republic of China on Taiwan. And we hope in the next couple of years we can at least start separate feasibility studies to see what will be the outlook for an EU-Taiwan economic cooperation agreement.

Let me just brief you on what we have been doing in this area in the last couple of years. As you know, we concluded an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with mainland China in June 2010, which we call ECFA. That covers only about 20% of all goods and services. So we engaged the mainland again in the last two years to work on trade in services, for which we probably will be able to sign an agreement in the next few months. And for the rest of the agreement on trade in goods, we hope we could get it done before the end of the year.

Shortly after we signed ECFA with the Chinese mainland three years ago, Singapore indicated an interest to have an economic cooperation agreement with us. That one, after two years of intensive negotiation, is also approaching the end. Last year, New Zealand also joined the crowd in trying to have one with us. We hope we could also get it done in the not so distant future. Singapore and New Zealand are important in this part of the world because they are members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which we have every interest to join in the future. So if we can pass the test of Singapore and New Zealand, I think we are in a much better position to try to knock on the door of TPP.

In addition, we are also interested in joining the RCEP — Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. We hope with that, we'll be able to further increase our trade with ASEAN countries. Europe, obviously, is very important to us because the European Union as a whole is our fourth largest trading partner. And we have a lot of trade, a lot of investment, and now that you have given us the visa-free status, a lot of visitors also go to Europe. They not only appreciate your culture, your people, they are also very serious shoppers. Before we can have an economic cooperation agreement or a free trade agreement with Europe, obviously, we have to do more to liberalize our trade, and do more deregulation of our economy. So we are planning to set up a few free economic demonstration zones in Taiwan to further liberalize our trade, and further deregulate the very complicated legal requirements that are operating in our society. We understand this is not an easy job to do, but this is probably something we have to do. So we are working on trade liberalization and deregulation. And we also have another very important thing to do — to change the mindset of our industry, even our government officials. Now it's time for us to regulate less and let the business really create a more prosperous future.

I think I have told you before that six years ago, when I was campaigning for the presidency, I actually rode a bike from Taiwan's southern tip, Pingtung, to Fugui Cape (富貴角) in the north, 675 kilometers in length. The evening before I reached my destination, I stayed over in Taoyuan, where I met one of the world's largest producers of fast food noodles, Master Kang (康師傅方便麵). I asked him how many packs of instant noodles they produced the year before. He said it was 8.1 billion packs. That means almost every single person on mainland China eats six packs a year. Then I asked him, "What do you want me to do for you if I get elected as president." He smiled and said, "Just leave us alone." That is something I am trying to do, not very successfully, but at least we are heading in the right direction. In addition to receiving visa-free status from European countries, we also have a youth working holiday program with Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Belgium. On top of that we have Japan, Korea, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, so altogether nine countries. We certainly want to have more if we could. I understand that one of the concerns of the European community here is the European School. You want to expand the campus and you need land. You are very correct in inviting the mayor of Taipei City to come here. He is the person in charge. Certainly, as the head of the central government, I will offer my assistance if you need it. But I have very high expectations for the European School. When I was mayor, I cooperated with them conscientiously in every way, because I always considered the European School a very unique one. As far as I know, that is the only school combining French, German, and British schools in one — three in one. It is the first time in the world. I also found out that integration among the three schools in Taipei is even better than your integration in Europe. I told your chairman that Europe has always been a source of inspiration for me. Last month we had the great opportunity to conclude a fishery agreement with Japan. That was part of my idea to have the East China Sea Peace Initiative, because very ample resources are lying in the sea bed of the East China Sea, in addition to the fishery resources. And this problem has troubled us for more than four decades. So on April 10 we concluded the fishery agreement, which gives the fishermen of both countries a very wide sea area, with a size about twice of Taiwan proper. And both sides could use that for fishing, and have a joint conservation and management zone. Actually, that idea came pretty much from what you did in Europe in the 1960s and 70s in the North Sea. The subject was different. It was oil and gas. At the beginning, there was a lot of controversy, but you were able to negotiate with each other and eventually came up with an agreement to apportion the oil-rich sea bed. Thereby, you started to produce oil and gas. Now the Brent Crude became one of the important brand names of the international oil market. This is a remarkable experience, as remarkable as the integration of Europe. Certainly, we learned a lot from that. Because I believe national sovereignty is indivisible, but natural resources can be shared. So by having a fishery agreement first, I am sure the prospect of solving the almost intractable territorial dispute may be a bit easier. But in any case, I think this is probably the best way to approach international disputes, including the one we have with the Philippines.

But in conclusion, I want to assure you that the Republic of China on Taiwan will continue to improve its economy, having more trade with not only its neighbors, but also with countries in Europe. And I consider it very important for us to have an FTA type of agreement with Europe so as to promote trade, investment, and other economic relations between the two sides. So this is a very happy moment for me, to join you for tonight's dinner. And I hope every one of you will have a very prosperous future.

Thank you very much.

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