Hainan could develop special ties with Taiwan thanks to the liberalisation of trade in Asia, a top economics scholar has said. Chi Fulin, acting director of the China Institute for Reform and Development, predicted that as trade barriers in the Asia-Pacific region were removed, China would make great strides in developing economic ties with Taiwan. A leading force behind most of Hainan's liberalisation moves in the past decade, Mr Chi believed further opening up of the island province was the only way it could break out of the economic rut it had been in since its real estate market crashed in 1993. He said both Beijing and Taipei wanted bilateral trade ties to grow. In view of its bid to join the World Trade Organisation and Asia-Pacific Economic Conference, China needed to open up its markets, he said. While it was politically impossible to do this in one step, China could use its largest economic zone - Hainan - as a starting point, he said. Free trade between Hainan and Taiwan on agricultural goods would also be 'extremely helpful in promoting peaceful reunification,' he said. Trade liberalisation would pressure Taiwan into opening up its agricultural markets to other countries, so a Taiwan-Hainan free trade move would give Taiwan's agriculture sector an opportunity to survive, Mr Chi said. It would be a move 'welcomed by Taiwan investors and farmers'. He proposed that Beijing announce a series of special free trade policies with regard to the trading of farm products between the two islands. Taiwanese businessmen engaged in agricultural production should be exempted from paying taxes in certain areas, including equipment, he suggested. Mr Chi said he had handed a copy of his proposals to Tang Shubei, vice-chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, who was in Hainan recently to celebrate the province's 10th anniversary.