Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Long-term SARS strategy needed, leaders say

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Business leaders yesterday expressed discontent with the government's aid package to help SARS-hit industries, urging a more long-term plan.

"The impact of SARS on Taiwan's economy may last two to three years," Theodore Huang (黃茂雄), chairman of Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce (CNAIC, 工商協進會), said yesterday. "Therefore, the government needs to come up with a thorough plan to help industries weather the crisis."

Huang and other entrepreneurs met with Vice Premier Lin Hsin-i (林信義) and Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu (林義夫) yesterday on ways to help SARS-hit industries.

The Cabinet on Tuesday ratified a SARS economic assistance program, which will offer up to NT$20 million in loans to firms having difficulty paying employee salaries. The annual interest rate of the loans will be pegged under 2.675 percent. To be eligible for the program, applicants need to prove that their sales have slumped by 30 percent since March.

"I hope the government directly subsidizes salary costs and offers tax cuts to companies hit by SARS, rather than merely providing low-interest loans," Huang said. "Or, many workers may soon face unemployment after small or medium-size companies go into bankruptcy."

Huang suggested that the government needs a long-term plan to fight SARS and minimize its impact.

Tsai Horng-ming (蔡宏明), deputy secretary general of Chinese National Federation of Industries (全國工總) also warned that the epidemic needs to be contained by July, otherwise this year's economic growth will be dragged down.

The Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) estimated that the outbreak of SARS would cut economic growth to 1.75 percent this year from the original 3.5-percent forecast.

Rock Hsu (許勝雄), chairman of the Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (TEEMA, 電電公會), said the government had done enough for industry.

"I appreciate the government's effort to help industries cope with the storm, especially when it has been stripped of cash after the outbreak of SARS," Hsu said. "The government should save money for more important areas badly in need of financial aid."

Meanwhile, industries also expressed concern over the government's "incomplete quarantine measures," Huang said.

"In this urgent time, the government should take stricter legal action to do whatever is needed to curb the disease," Huang said. "Individuals should also sacrifice a certain extent of their freedom in the interests of the country."

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