The head of Taiwan's top mainland policy planning body sees a window of opportunity in the first half of this year for cross-strait rapprochement talks. Mainland Affairs Council chairman Joseph Wu Jau-shieh said failure to grasp the opportunity might result in further delaying such talks until after the island's presidential election next year. Taiwan will enter its election season in March, when aspirants from rival camps start preparing for the legislative election in December and the presidential poll in March next year. The mainland would usually halt talks with Taiwan in the wake of such political activities, Dr Wu said. 'According to our assessment, mainland China is likely to delay its negotiations with us from August, like it did when we were having the mayoral elections [late last year],' Dr Wu said in a recent interview. 'So the first half of this year should be an opportune time for the two sides to speed up talks.' The talks would include issues such as permitting mainland tourists to visit Taiwan and the operation of regular cargo charter fights. Dr Wu has also urged Beijing to broaden the agenda to include investment protection, intellectual property rights, mainland currency exchanges and other issues that could help improve cross-strait exchanges and relations. Talks on the tourism issue have seen progress since the December 9 mayoral elections, and Dr Wu called on Beijing to speed up the negotiations so an agreement could be reached before the Lunar New Year, which falls on February 18 this year. Taipei has expressed the hope mainland tourists might be able to visit the island during the Lunar New Year holiday when the two sides launch charter flights, which have been allowed since 2002. Taiwan has banned direct contact with the mainland since the end of a civil war between the nationalists and communists in 1949. But cross-strait exchanges, especially business activities conducted via a third area, have remained active despite the restrictions. To address growing demand from Taiwanese businessmen wanting a share of the vast mainland market, the island's government has allowed certain investments to be made on the mainland with government permission, despite opposition from hardline independence supporters who oppose any dealings with the mainland. Last month, the government said it would permit Taiwanese semiconductor firms to invest in building eight-inch wafer plants on the mainland, a measure criticised by the pro-independence camp which claimed the island's core technological advantage was being put at risk. Dr Wu, however, said the new measure would not undermine Taiwan's hi-tech industrial development. Rather, he said, 'it would increase Taiwan's competitiveness' in the field. He said relevant authorities, including the Mainland Affairs Council, had made a comprehensive assessment of whether the move would affect local investments, technological know-how and labour benefits. 'Taiwan has already developed the [more advanced] 12-inch wafer technology and mass produced its products,' he said, adding there was no need to worry about the transfer of core technology to the mainland. Asked if the latest measure had met with strong opposition from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which favours independence, Dr Wu admitted that DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun had responded negatively to the decision, but aides later clarified that Mr Yu had merely wanted to remind the government of the negative impact of too much reliance on the mainland market. Dr Wu said any move to increase the ceiling for Taiwanese investments on the mainland, currently capped at 40 per cent of a firm's total capital, would be more problematic and no decision had yet been made. He said lifting the restriction could pose a serious problem for Taiwan because it could result in local firms moving all their capital to the mainland and leaving their debts behind in Taiwan.