President Ma Ying-jeou met on the morning of October 13 with Madeleine Majorenko, new Head of the European Economic and Trade Office (EETO) in Taiwan. In addition to explaining the close and friendly relations between the ROC and the European Union (EU), the president also said that he hopes Ms. Majorenko will continue to urge the European Commission to begin negotiating a bilateral investment agreement (BIA) with Taiwan as soon as possible.
In remarks, the president stated that Ms. Majorenko is a senior EU diplomat with extensive administrative experience. He welcomed her to the ROC to assume her new post as head of the EETO, and said that he hopes she and the ROC government will cooperate closely to promote the development of ROC-EU relations.
The president mentioned that on September 29 of this year he participated in his first videoconference between Taiwan and Members of the European Parliament, organized by Dr. Werner Langen, Chairman of the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group. They exchanged views on a broad range of topics including the ROC's relations with the EU and mainland China, as well as regional security in East Asia.
The president remarked that since he took office in May 2008 the ROC government has sought to strengthen its relations with all EU member states. The most important development in this regard was in January 2011 when the EU provided ROC nationals with visa-free courtesies in Schengen Agreement member states, allowing ROC nationals to enter 69 European countries and areas without visas. This has been an important driving force in forging closer bilateral relations. Last year, for instance, the number of ROC nationals visiting the Netherlands, Portugal, and Romania grew over three-fold compared with 2010, he said. President Ma also noted that the number of countries and areas that provide ROC nationals with visa-free entry or landing visa courtesies now stands at 153. Compared with the 54 before the president took office, 99 additional jurisdictions have been added, he said.
Commenting on ROC-EU relations, the president stated that over the past seven years the ROC has signed 80 official agreements and memorandums of understanding with the EU and European countries covering cooperative relationships in various areas including technology, education, judicial assistance, youth working holiday programs, and food safety. The ROC and European countries share the universal values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Over the past seven years the European Parliament has passed 9 resolutions and the European External Action Service have issued 18 statements friendly to Taiwan, supporting peaceful cross-strait development, expanding our international participation, and strengthening Taiwan-EU economic and trade cooperation. The president expressed his gratitude to the European Parliament for its long-term support for the ROC.
President Ma mentioned that upon taking office, his policy objectives were to create a "prosperous Taiwan, peaceful Taiwan Strait, and friendly international relations," and for the most part, thanks to the government's efforts over the past seven years these goals have been achieved. This has created a virtuous cycle between cross-strait relations and the ROC's international relations, as well as a "peace dividend" for the international community, said the president.
President Ma then pointed out that the ROC government's most important policy on cross-strait relations is to maintain the status quo, defined as "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" in the Taiwan Strait under the framework of the ROC Constitution, and to promote the peaceful development of cross-strait ties under the 1992 Consensus, whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means. As a result, he said, over the past 66 years, cross-strait relations have never been better. Over the past seven years the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have signed 23 agreements, and between the APEC meetings in May of 2013 and May of this year, the ministers in charge of cross-strait affairs from both sides of the Strait have held five formal meetings where both sides used their official titles. The sixth meeting will be held on October 14 in Guangzhou, capital of mainland China's Guangdong Province.
The president also mentioned that Taiwan and mainland China signed the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2010, which paved the way for the ROC to sign economic agreements with other countries. For example, the ROC signed the Taiwan-Japan Bilateral Investment Arrangement in 2011, as well as the ANZTEC economic cooperation agreement with New Zealand, and the ASTEP economic partnership agreement with Singapore in 2013. Negotiations with the US under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) also resumed in 2013, said the president. He added that, led by the US, the first round of negotiations associated with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was recently completed, and the ROC government is actively seeking to participate in the second round of TPP negotiations, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). All of these examples show that the ROC is sparing no effort to take part in regional economic integration in East Asia.
Discussing economic and trade relations between Taiwan and the EU, the president stated that the EU is Taiwan's fifth largest trading partner, while Taiwan is the EU's seventh largest trading partner in Asia and its 19th largest in the world. Bilateral trade last year was valued at US$50.9 billion, an increase of 3.7% from 2013, he said. In addition, aggregate investment in Taiwan by the EU as of the end of last year exceeded US$33 billion, making it the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), accounting for 24% of Taiwan's total FDI. Many companies based in EU nations have made investments in Taiwan such as the German multinational Merck, which in 2013 chose Taiwan to set up its first Business R&D and Application Lab in Asia, and United Kingdom-based ARM Holdings plc which opened its first CPU Design Center in Asia in Taiwan last year. In May of this year Taiwan also formally joined the Enterprise Europe Network, the beginning of a new era of cooperation between small- and medium-sized enterprises in Taiwan and Europe.
In recent years, the EU has strengthened its economic and trade cooperation with Asian nations, with the president pointing out that the EU has already signed a free trade agreement with Korea, and has concluded negotiations on a similar agreement with Singapore. The EU is also currently engaged in trade or investment negotiations with Japan, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and mainland China. However, President Ma feels that "Taiwan should not be overlooked in the EU's trade and investment negotiation blueprint in Asia."
The president stressed that the European Parliament on October 9, 2013 passed a resolution on EU-Taiwan trade relations calling on the European Commission to launch negotiations with Taiwan on an investment protection and market entry agreement. The EU has already held talks with mainland China on an investment agreement for nearly two years, and President Ma feels that now is the most opportune time for the EU and Taiwan to start parallel talks on a BIA, or at least consider carrying out preparatory work first, such as feasibility research. This could help ensure that subsequent discussions would progress smoothly, he said.
President Ma also stated that Taiwanese companies in the past rarely made investments in Europe, but that the situation is changing. For example, many Taiwanese electronics, electrical machinery, and hospitality firms have made significant investments in Europe. He feels that "the private sector moves more quickly than the public sector, and if the government can cooperate, it will make a difference." In closing, President Ma expressed hope that Ms. Majorenko will help urge the European Commission to start negotiations with Taiwan as soon as possible, and strengthen bilateral cooperation and interaction to benefit all parties.
The delegation also included EETO Deputy Head Viktoria Lovenberg.