Taiwan's Premier Wu Den-yih said on Friday his government will begin negotiating with China later this month on a major trade pact in a bid to sign the agreement in May.
"The initial contacts will start on January 20," Wu told reporters. "It would be best if we could sign the deal in May. I am looking forward to it."
Taiwan's China-friendly government is eager to conclude the trade pact, known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which it says could lift growth and boost employment.
Wu noted some public scepticism, stressing that his government will only strike the deal with the consent of the public and parliament.
"We cannot neglect the people's feelings ... we have to let them understand why our country and our industries need ECFA in order to stay competitive," he said.
The needs are even more pressing now after China and countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) decided to establish the world's biggest free trade area, he said.
But the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which favours independence from China, opposes the pact, fearing it would increase Taiwan's reliance on China and imperil the island's separate status.
Taiwan and China have been governed independently since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, by force if necessary.
Relations have improved since Taiwan's current administration assumed power in May 2008, pursuing a programme of stepping up economic ties.