The government’s proposed comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) with China continues to make headlines as opposition parties and activists condemn the plan and vow to take to the streets or try to recall the president if the government presses ahead with signing it.
Amid all the furor, however, government officials have done little to provide the public with information about the proposal. In fact, they have often contradicted one another.
Minister of Economic Affairs Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘), for one, has said “the CECA means an FTA [free trade agreement],” while Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) chided Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for confusing a CECA with an FTA.
Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Secretary-General Kao Koong-lian (高孔廉) then said that signing the CECA was an urgent matter, while SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) on Tuesday said he hoped the two sides of the Taiwan Strait could complete an outline of the pact by year’s end.
Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) told lawmakers on Tuesday that there was no timetable for signing a CECA.
And there’s more: Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) on Tuesday said the Presidential Office would seek a public consensus on the pact’s content and name, even though President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had ruled out holding a referendum on the matter.
What’s going on? How does the government expect the public to buy the idea when its own officials can’t get on the same page? Most people are clueless about the CECA proposal and what it would mean to them.
The Ma administration has said signing an economic pact with Beijing would help Taiwan by helping it avoid marginalization after China, Japan and South Korea enter into a free-trade agreement with ASEAN, which is scheduled to be finalized by 2012 with Seoul’s accession. The government also said such a pact would allow Taiwan and China to offer each other economic and trade privileges, such as lifting non-tariff trade barriers and import duties.
There are two sides to any story, and while the Ma government has found it difficult to present a united front on the timing of the proposed CECA, it has been unanimous in avoiding mention of any downside to such a deal. What will happen to Taiwan’s agricultural and manufacturing industries when cheaper Chinese products start pouring in after a CECA is signed?
Ma has said there would be no importation of Chinese labor or increase in Chinese agricultural products, but that would violate the reciprocal spirit of the pact, how does Ma know China would agree without any objection? How can the government be sure that signing a CECA would guarantee Taiwanese entry into ASEAN?
Many questions remain unanswered. It would be irresponsible for the government to push ahead with the proposal without giving the public a clear explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of the deal. This is not a case of “father knows best.”