Representatives of 21 Pacific Rim economies are in Santiago, Chile for preliminary meetings leading up to this weekend's meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Taiwanese trade representatives are on hand at the APEC gathering, playing an active role.
Taiwan is participating in this APEC meeting as "Chinese Taipei." That is the identifying term worked out with China a few years back to allow both APEC members to attend meetings without generating friction over China's claim to Taiwan.
The island's government is recognized officially by only 27 nations worldwide, but it has trade relations with over 100. Taiwanese officials and corporate representatives have built strong ties in Central and South America over the past several decades. Recently, China has been strengthening its trade ties in the region as well. But officials from "Chinese Taipei," are not concerned that they might be pushed aside.
In a VOA interview, the Director General of "Chinese Taipei's" Bureau of Foreign Trade, Huang Chih-Peng, said commercial competition does not create friction.
"They are competition, but I would not say [there is] conflict, because doing trade is one thing
people do on commercial basis, so whenever our goods are good quality, with reasonable prices, they would be accepted by our customers," said Huang Chih-Peng.
Mr. Huang says APEC has a formal structure of meetings that minimize the opportunity for any clash with Chinese officials, but at the same time offers a flexibility that promotes free participation by all member economies.
"The basic principle of APEC is voluntary, flexibility, non-binding [agreements]. APEC is a platform for all to exchange views, to raise proposals and initiatives for discussion," he added.
But the very flexibility of APEC has caused some participating officials to express concern that the organization might be made irrelevant as nations go their own way, forging bilateral agreements and avoiding commitments to a larger framework.
Ten years ago APEC leaders adopted a timetable that would lead to a free trade and investment zone in the Asia/Pacific region by 2010. Under the plan, the most industrialized nations would take the first step and be followed by the region's developing economies by the year 2020. But few observers believe APEC will meet its goals, mainly because of resistance in some of the larger economies to significant reductions in tariff barriers.
But Huang Chih-Peng remains confident that there will be progress at this meeting and that trade barriers, while not falling completely, will be reduced.
"When you say 2010 and 2020 for the developed and developing countries, member economies, respectively, what do you mean by 'free and open trade.' But nobody gives a definition, because in the real world there is no real 100 percent free and open trade," he said.
Chile, the host of this summit, has proposed a formal free trade agreement among APEC members, which would comprise around 47 percent of all global commerce. Among other issues on the table at this meeting are efforts to fight corruption, counter terrorism and limit the spread of infectious diseases.