China offers new round of tariff cuts

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BEIJING (AP) – China announced tariff cuts on imports of fruit and fish from Taiwan, offering the self-ruled island new trade concessions Saturday in an effort to boost sentiment for uniting with the communist mainland.

The announcement came during a visit to Beijing by Taiwan’s former opposition leader, who is calling for increased trade ties between the island and the mainland.

Beijing is trying to isolate Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian by forging ties with his political opposition and offering trade concessions to appeal to Taiwan’s farmers.

In Taiwan, the government body responsible for ties with China called on the mainland to open direct talks with Taiwan’s government on trade issues.

The two sides split amid civil war in 1949 and have no official relations, but China claims Taiwan as part of its territory. The mainland has promised to pursue peaceful unification but also has threatened to attack if the island pursues formal independence.

The latest concessions were announced by Chen Yulin, director of the Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, during a two-day government forum on cross-straits business.

The forum was attended by Lien Chan, former chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party. On Friday, Lien called for closer trade ties between the two sides, saying Taiwan cannot succeed economically without the mainland’s markets and factories.

The Taiwanese president has rejected the business gathering as propaganda meant to create a false image of goodwill ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s trip to Washington.

The measures announced Saturday will add four types of Taiwan-grown fruit to a list of 18 varieties that can be imported to the mainland, extend tax-free import status to 11 new types of vegetables and let Taiwanese fishing boats sell their catch in mainland markets, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

In addition, mainland produce-marketing cooperatives will organize buying trips to Taiwan during fruit harvest season, Xinhua said.

It said China will set up a marketing center in Xiamen, the mainland port city closest to Taiwan, to “bring convenience and reduce cost for Taiwan’s fruit imports.”

Beijing announced an earlier round of concessions for Taiwanese farm imports during a visit last year by Lien.

Chen, the Chinese official, said Beijing also will:

– Allow Taiwanese to apply for licenses to practice medicine in China.

– Expand the number of city governments authorized to issue permits for Taiwanese to enter the mainland.

– Allow Taiwanese to apply for jobs as Chinese customs inspectors.

– Recognize diplomas issued by Taiwanese universities.

AP-ES-04-15-06 1040EDT

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