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ECFA talks will go "step by step": negotiators

TAIPEI, April 26 (Xinhua) -- A wide-ranging cross-Strait economic pact has saved companies on the mainland and in Taiwan millions of dollars in duty cuts, and negotiators from both sides have agreed to conduct follow-up talks in a "step-by-step manner," a mainland economic negotiator said Thursday.

Taiwanese enterprises saved about 230 billion U.S. dollars in tariffs from Jan. 1, 2011, to March 2012, following the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), said Jiang Yaoping, a leading mainland representative.

The tax reductions were applied to 5.89 billion U.S. dollars worth of commodities that Taiwan sold to the mainland in the same period, Jiang said in a news briefing after a regular meeting with his Taiwanese counterpart at the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Committee (ECC).

The ECC was jointly set up by the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF)in January 2011 to handle issues concerning the ECFA, an economic pact that is set to facilitate cross-Strait trade and service exchanges.

When reviewing the progress in the service sector, Jiang said six Taiwanese accounting firms had obtained permits to operate for one year on the Chinese mainland as of March 2012.

In the same period, more than 130 Taiwanese enterprises were allowed to set up wholly-owned or joint ventures on the mainland, five Taiwanese movies hit mainland theaters and 19 Taiwanese financial institutions were qualified to either act as investors, set up branches or conduct Renminbi business, Jiang told the media on behalf of the negotiators attending the ECC.

Mainland businesses benefited from the ECFA as well. Taiwan customs revealed that in the 15 months ending March 2012, mainland businesses enjoyed 33.56 million U.S. dollars in tax cuts under the ECFA framework.

Meanwhile, mainland investment worth 108 million U.S. dollars was allowed to enter the island, 16 mainland movies were shown in Taiwan's cinemas and two mainland banks are currently preparing to open branches in Taipei, Jiang noted.

Under the ECFA, which was signed between the ARATS and SEF in June 2010, the Chinese mainland allows Taiwanese companies to enter 11 service sectors such as accounting, hospital, banking and securities, while Taiwan has opened nine of its service sectors to mainland firms.

As part of the follow-up negotiations for the ECFA, both sides started to accept applications from economic agencies for the establishment of trade offices on April 18, even though only one agency from each side will be permitted to set up offices initially, Jiang said.

Negotiators from both sides expect the signing of an investment protection agreement to be completed at the upcoming eighth round of talks between the SEF and the ARATS, which is scheduled for the first half of this year.

They have also exchanged views and agreed upon details regarding a customs cooperation agreement, which is set to improve the efficiency of customs clearance, Jiang disclosed Thursday. Both agreements are part of the follow-up negotiations of the ECFA.

The negotiations regarding trade in goods and services as well as dispute settlements have been going well, Jiang said, adding that both sides will handle settlements over trade disputes in the spirit of "seeking common ground while shelving differences" and "in an active yet prudent manner."

Representatives attending the ECC meeting have pledged to strengthen cooperation on major industrial projects.

According to Jiang, it was agreed at the ECC meeting that both sides will increase substantive cooperation regarding the petrochemical industry in a bid to raise their global competitiveness.