|Substantial progress made in cross-Strait economic pact talks|
XIAMEN, June 20 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese mainland and Taiwan have come closer to signing a comprehensive economic pact as "substantial progress" has been made in negotiations, the mainland's chief Taiwan affairs official said on Sunday.
Speaking at a centerpiece conference of the week-long Straits Forum held in the southeastern city of Xiamen, Director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, Wang Yi, said the progress in talks on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is a result of joint endeavors and shall be honored by both sides.
The two sides discussed the main contents of the pact and items of the goods and services to be included in the "early harvest program" at the third round of expert-level talks in Beijing last week.
The Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) represented both sides during the negotiations. Two previous talks were held in Beijing and Taipei earlier this year.
The ECFA is intended to normalize mainland-Taiwan economic ties and bring the two economies closer, the pact's initiators said. Its "early harvest program" will cover certain industries to first benefit from tariff reductions.
Wang said the size of the "early harvest program" has grown "very big" and demands from all industries will be considered by officials. However, he did not reveal details of the program.
Fan Liqing, a spokeswoman of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said earlier at a Beijing press briefing that a high proportion of items proposed by the Taiwan side had been included in the "early harvest program". The number of such items might exceed 500.
"No matter in term of total sum or proportion, the Chinese mainland receives far less benefit than the Taiwan side," she said.
"The mainland has promised to give preferential treatment to Taiwan's 'weak' industries, medium and small businesses, and the farming communities," noted Wang.
Despite wide expectation that the deal could be signed by the end of this June, officials were cautious not to give a specific deadline.
Wang said the ECFA would inject new life into Taiwan's economy, improve its competitiveness and give it an edge in handling challenges created by the integration of other regional economies.
"The ECFA will create new room for the development of Taiwan," he said.
Senior officials attending the forum from both the mainland and Taiwan again voiced their support for the pact.
China's top political advisor, Jia Qinglin, said Sunday that signing the ECFA would benefit the long-term development of both economies and bring new opportunities to mainland-Taiwan exchanges and cooperative ventures.
Huang Ming-hui, vice chairwoman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party, said the ECFA is a significant agreement and would have a very large economic impact once it is signed.
Huang said she appreciated that the mainland and Taiwan could consider each other's special needs and make compromises in the negotiations -- a clear break from the decades-old hostility towards each other.