TAIPEI -- Taiwan signed a free trade deal with Singapore on Thursday, its first with a Southeast Asian country, as the diplomatically isolated island steps up efforts to join regional economic blocs.
The "economic partnership agreement" was signed in Singapore just months after Taiwan struck a similar deal with New Zealand, its first with a country that has diplomatic ties with China.
"The agreement will further boost trade liberalization and internationalization for Taiwan and create beneficial conditions for our entry to the TPP and the RCEP," Foreign Minister David Lin told a press conference in Taipei.
Taiwan has been pursuing bilateral trade deals to prepare for joining proposed multinational free trade blocs such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Under the deal Singapore will immediately remove custom duties on all products imported from Taiwan, according to Taiwanese authorities.
Taipei will immediately eliminate customs duties on 83% of goods imported from Singapore, while duties on other products will be removed over a period ranging from five to 15 years.
Forty agricultural products such as rice and pineapples are excluded.
Singapore, like most countries, officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei and already has a free trade deal with China. Singapore is Taiwan's fifth largest trade partner and fourth largest export market, with bilateral trade totaling $28.2 billion in 2012.
In 2011 Taiwan forged an investment protection agreement with Japan as China relaxed its previous strong opposition to economic deals between the island and third parties.
The change in China's policy followed the signing of the sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between Beijing and Taipei in 2010.
China still considers Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification even though the two entities have been governed separately since 1949.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013