All free-trade negotiations with Taiwan planned for this year have been shelved by “other countries” because of unrest over the cross-strait service trade agreement, Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) said yesterday, though he refused to name any specific countries.
Chang told a meeting of the legislature’s Economics Committee that many countries have grown hesitant and indefinitely postponed scheduled talks after the weeks of protest and ongoing controversy over the service trade agreement with China that have gripped the country and, at one point, ground the Legislative Yuan to a halt.
Accused by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) of making threats to scare the public, Chang said that he and the ministry are not at liberty to reveal the names of countries interested in talks with Taiwan.
Chang defended his stance and said that as a Cabinet minister, he would not have made such comments without solid grounds.
He stressed that foreign nations’ concerns over trade deals with Taiwan are not because of the student-led protests against the cross-strait service trade agreement, but are rather a result of the wider controversy over the agreement itself.
Meanwhile, Chang said it was regrettable that a former US envoy had said the pact with China is not needed for Taiwan to pursue other trade deals.
The Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) yesterday published an interview with former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director William Stanton, who said that the cross-strait service trade agreement does not relate either directly or indirectly to Taiwan’s chances of entering talks about joining the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The comments by Stanton, who was the de facto US representative at the AIT’s Taipei office from 2009 to 2012, contradict President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) repeated statements that passing the service pact is a necessary first step before Taiwan can join regional trade blocs.
Now the director of the Center for Asia Policy at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University, Stanton said the US does not consider the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) of 2010 or other deals with China to be representative of regular FTAs because the agreements are meant to promote Beijing’s political goals.
Chang said it was “regrettable” that Stanton apparently “does not understand” Taiwan’s economic plight, despite living in the nation for so long.
While the US may not consider the ECFA a necessary step, there are 11 other countries in negotiations to join the TPP which are subject to China’s considerable influence, Chang said during a monthly meeting at the Presidential Office in Taipei.
Washington itself has said Taiwan needs all 12 member states to come to a consensus in order for the nation to participate, he said.
Since China is the biggest or second-biggest trade partner of most of those countries, Taiwan would need to neutralize Beijing’s influence before it could join the TPP or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Chang said.