For the first time since the cross-strait service trade pact was signed in June last year, government officials yesterday visited school campuses to promote the pact and to clarify what they called “widespread misunderstanding” about the deal that prompted the “Sunflower student movement.”
Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Woody Duh (杜紫軍) and Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Lin Chu-chia (林祖嘉) attended a forum at National Chengchi University in Taipei to discuss with students the pros and cons of the service trade pact.
Duh said only 59 percent of the country’s service sector will be opened to Chinese investors once the trade pact takes effect, including a 50 percent share from subsectors on the “early harvest” list of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) inked in 2010.
The ministry has also budgeted up to NT$98 billion (US$3.22 billion) in special funds as financial assistance for local businesses that fail to thrive in the market as a result of trade agreements, he said.
He also said his presentation was not about “convincing” students of the pact’s merits at a time when student activists are occupying the legislature in protest of the government’s handling of the agreement.
Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) China Affairs Department director Hung Tsai-lung (洪財隆) countered the government’s view that the pact is necessary for Taiwan to avoid being marginalized and that the nation will not be able to join major trade blocs if the agreement fails to win legislative approval.
“China is to blame for Taiwan’s possible marginalization,” Hung said.
He described Beijing as a factor that should not be excluded from the debate over the trade pact.
Chen Jyh-huei (陳志輝), an associate professor of the university’s College of Law, said he is more concerned about the possibility of seeing a large influx of Chinese illegal immigrants.
Citing a report by the Ministry of the Interior, Chen said the number of illegal immigrants in Taiwan had amounted to 43,000 as of February.
“How are you going to ensure the service trade pact will not result in more illegal aliens from China?” Chen asked officials at the forum.
Duh replied that the government would track foreign workers’ personal information and that not every Chinese investor comes to Taiwan for the purpose of illegal immigration.
Chen did not buy Duh’s answer.
“That [the favorable outcome] is just an assumption,” he said.
Lin said that the government would not open up Taiwan’s labor market to Chinese workers, saying that the government has only approved 398 applications from Chinese investors to set up businesses in Taiwan since 2010.
Those investments, run by 216 Chinese managers, have created 6,771 new jobs for Taiwanese, Lin said.
Forum host Chuang Yih-chyi (莊奕琦), dean of the College of Social Science, said students would better understand the trade deal by joining discussions with government officials.
However, Gibbs Hsieh (謝政諺), a freshman at in the Department of Diplomacy, said his concern is beyond the trade agreement itself.
“The cross-strait service trade pact is not welcomed by students mainly because it cannot help address our worries,” Hsieh said.
Hsieh said he and many of his friends lacked confidence in the country’s economy, adding that the young generation “cannot see the future without the fear of rising competition in the job market.”
Whether the trade pact can resolve the country’s worsening economic inequality issue, or whether the pact can help upgrade Taiwan’s service sector remain big questions to society, he added.
Additional reporting by CNA