Wed, Jan 20, 2010 - Page 8 News List

The hole in the ECFA argument

By Honigmann Hong 洪財隆

Late last month, when officials were answering questions about the ECFA, it was presented as being signed in line with Article 24 (the section on trade in goods) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, with the free-trade area to be implemented gradually and not established with immediate effect. It is to be an “interim agreement” of phased liberalization.

We were told that once the ECFA is signed, Taiwan and China are expected to abolish the vast majority — which can be understood as 90 percent — of trade barriers within a reasonable period of time — say 10 years. For example, there would be no customs duty applied to trade in goods.

Article 24 of the GATT states that both contracting parties are expected to decide upon the full set of regulations and set a timetable for the establishment of the free-trade area at the time of signing the agreement, and that there should be something concrete in place when completing the negotiations or presenting the agreement terms to the WTO.

With the enabling clause in mind, this seems to be a far cry from the government’s references to the ECFA being “no more than a preliminary framework and objective” and “similar to a contents page of a book,” or their talk of “getting the main content down and pursuing further negotiations down the line.”

They have even mentioned signing other agreements at a later date. We are told that 300 to 500 products could become duty-free as part of an early harvest list, although this would exclude other WTO member states without a legal basis.

Incredibly, we are told that such details will be dealt with when the time comes. The term “early harvest” is in fact misleading — other FTAs become effective immediately.

I would suggest that advocates of the ECFA get things straight in their own minds before they confuse the public further.

Honigmann Hong is an assistant professor at the Institute of Strategic Studies at Tamkang University.


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