Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Adviser pans government on ECFA

TECHNOLOGY A National Taiwan University professor says a key aim for China in signing an ECFA is to gain access to Taiwan’s technology and finance industries

By Elizabeth Tchii  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government lacks communication, persuasion and preparedness when it comes to engaging in discussions on the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China next month, National Policy Foundation adviser Jack Lee (李允傑) said at a conference yesterday.

At the conference, titled Cross-Strait Commerce Collaboration and its Impact on Asia Pacific, Lee said he saw plenty of advantages in signing an ECFA with China to prevent Taiwan from being marginalized in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, he said he was unable to differentiate economics from politics when it came to any type of cross-strait pact.

Therefore, once the pact is signed, the political repercussions years down the road may be beyond any policymaker’s control, he said.

Lee said he was disappointed that the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) had not delineated a rough outline of its ECFA agenda to share with the public, saying this was beyond his comprehension.

“Without buy-in from citizens, we divide up and defeat ourselves before even approaching China,” Lee said.

Although Lee indicated that no country in the world had ever had a public vote when signing trade agreements with other nations, at least the MOEA or the government should communicate and market the merits of an ECFA to its citizens. This would also prevent further inter and intra-party division, which he said had increased recently.

Shiau Chyuan-jeng (蕭全政), political science professor at National Taiwan University, told the audience not to expect too much from an ECFA because it was only a “framework agreement.”

“Despite the purported zero customs claims on some industries, when local businesses actually interact with regional China as opposed to central China, the trade outcomes may not be as rosy as previously promised,” he said.

Moreover, Shiau said that China was just as eager to sign a trade agreement with Taiwan to continue the massive investments they receive from Taiwanese businesses.

Even more importantly, China wants to learn from Taiwan’s technology and finance services industries and have the country as part of its arsenal in building itself up as a regional Asia Pacific powerhouse, Shiau said.

In sum, China hoped to gain developed nation status on par with the EU and the US and create a tripartite currency system of US dollars, euros and the Chinese yuan, he said.

Aside from Taiwanese internal friction over the ECFA, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) have different political expectations for the pact, Lee said.

“The real dilemma is that Ma wants development first then political definition later, while Hu prefers to set a political framework before engaging in cross-strait economic collaboration. How the actual talks pan out will be anyone’s guess,” Lee said.

Lee recommended involving the US when signing an ECFA.

Taiwan joined the WTO as an independent entity in January 2001, but since then it has had enormous problems signing one-on-one Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with any developed nation.

Even former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) cut short FTA talks with Taiwan at the last minute because of pressure from China, Lee said.

“And whether signing an ECFA with China will eventually open doors for FTAs with multiple countries is still debatable,” he said.

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