Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Leaders want emergency action

INVESTOR CONFIDENCE Businessmen throughout the country asked the nation's officials to implement 'draconian' measures to contain the economic fallout of SARS

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Theodore Huang (黃茂雄), the chairman of Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, (工商協進會) is expected to advise President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to declare a state of emergency in Taiwan during Chen's meeting with him today in his capacity of a national adviser.

"The business community feels it's necessary for the government to implement draconian measures now in order to contain SARS," George Lin (林添貴), deputy secretary general of the association, quoted Huang as saying yesterday. "Chairman Huang believes that maybe it's time to declare a state of emergency if the disease is protracted."

Lin said that Huang has discussed the proposal with several other business leaders, who believe that the nation's politicians should "put aside their political differences and focus on containing the disease and thereby helping the economy with their joint efforts."

Huang will deliver the business community's message to the president that a long-term anti-SARS mechanism is needed. The president will hold a meeting with newly-appointed national advisers today.

Earlier this month, the Executive Yuan had loosely set a precondition that, if the nation's probable SARS cases exceed 500, the central government may consider declaring a state of emergency.

The number of SARS cases yesterday shot up to 483, with 60 deaths, from 418 on Wednesday.

Adopting another proposal raised previously by the General Chamber of Commerce (商總), the legislature on Tuesday urged the government to seal the nation's borders as well as to close markets and businesses for 10 days to halt the spread of SARS.

But the Ministry of Finance yesterday flatly rejected the legislature's non-binding resolution, saying the local stock market (TAIEX) is too internationalized to be closed.

"Shutting the stock market would rock investor confidence and disrupt ongoing liquidity flows in the market," the ministry said in a written statement.

The ministry yesterday urged the public to remain confident in the market and the government's ability to deal with the deadly disease.

Ever since the value of trading plummeted to a 19-month low on Monday, the question of whether the government will shut down the TAIEX has been repeatedly raised to finance officials over the past few days.

High-ranking finance officials, including Minister of Finance Lin Chuan (林全), Vice Minister of Finance Susan Chang (張秀蓮) and Securities and Futures Commission (SFC, 證期會) Chairman Ding Ke-hwa (丁克華), flatly declined the possibility of shutting down the TAIEX and foreign exchange markets.

On Tuesday, Ding told reporters that the TAIEX hasn't been seriously affected by SARS, as trading activities remain stable.

"Foreign investors even showed great confidence in the market by injecting billions of dollars in [to bottom fish]," Ding said.

Unlike markets in China, Ding said that the TAIEX is closely tied to foreign markets and well participated-in by international investors. If the market is shut down, greater negative impact may be triggered, he added.

Chang, however, told lawmakers on Wednesday that the SFC is mulling preventive measures to stabilize the market if the disease drags on, adding that the government would not go so far as to end trading.

Lin also told reporters that the closure proposal had a bigger-than-expected impact on markets and society.

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