“We will pursue this deal,” Taiwanese presidential office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang said. “It's basically a Free Trade Agreement, though we may use a different name,” he added. “Singapore is an economic hub in Asia, and trade is Taiwan's lifeblood.”
A statement from Singapore's Taipei trade office said the two sides had “agreed to explore the feasibility” of an agreement under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and would meet later in the year for discussions.
“Singapore can be a very important bridge for us both economically and strategically, allowing us to form closer economic co-operation with other trade partners,” Lo said.
Previously, Beijing had systematically opposed such deals because it considers the island a rebel province and denies it any international status. It has always thrown around its diplomatic and economic weight to prevent Taiwan from signing any agreement with foreign states. Ten years ago, it did the same with a prior attempt to negotiate a free trade with Singapore.
However, Beijing and Taipei have improved relations lately. Under Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was signed with the mainland. It is expected to boost cross-strait trade substantially.
According to official Taiwanese sources, Beijing in July said it would not oppose trade deals between Taiwan and other countries.
For Taipei, such a deal would be important because it would be the first of its kind and because Singapore is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and could provide Taiwan access to the entire ASEAN area.
For Singapore, a free trade pact with Taiwan would provide a privileged route for access to the mainland’s huge market via the ECFA.
Taiwan is Asia’s fifth-biggest exporter and its technology companies are an indispensable part of the global supply chain for a host of electronic goods.