Less than two months ago, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) told reporters that he himself had a hard time explaining the so-called framework behind the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China. Wu’s humility implied a personal lack of understanding of the trade pact, which in a way should be excusable, since the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, in pursuing a top-down policymaking approach, has tried to sandwich all of its lengthy, sector-by-sector trade negotiations with China into one comprehensive mega-pact.
That has certainly led to a lack of understanding among the general public.
Wu’s confession also demonstrated a sincere desire to bridge the cracked channels of communication between the government and the public before the pact is deliberated on.
After all, a lot of myths remain about the deal, which must be clarified to pinpoint potential benefits and dangers to the local economy before Taiwan enters into such an agreement.
But on Friday, Wu went to the other extreme, saying that “Taiwan will be drowned or face serious economic danger” if the ECFA isn’t inked immediately.
He also urged the public not to think or talk negatively about the deal before it is struck, likening such thinking to “a couple who are about to tie the knot and are talking about nothing but divorce.”
If the ECFA is to be a marriage, it should be a well thought out one. A prenuptial agreement is often necessary, but that does not suggest that the marriage will fall apart; instead, it provides some guarantee that it will not end unpleasantly.
One must be careful entering into a marriage, let alone a comprehensive trade agreement that may take jobs from local workers or squeeze out investment.
That said, we should not ignore this window of opportunity to normalize trade with China. Instead, we should consider any potential downside and find ways to prepare for it — such as putting in place an “exit” mechanism in case the ECFA doesn’t work or China fails to honor its promises regarding dumping, trade disputes and market access.
Doing so will ensure a safety net to minimize any negative consequences from the inking of the ECFA, without sacrificing any of the deal’s potential benefits to Taiwan, as several Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-associated experts have suggested.
It is understandable that the KMT government wishes to “give face” and create an amicable atmosphere before it enters into official ECFA negotiations with China in the next few months.
For a responsible government to represent Taiwan and sit behind the negotiation table with another nation, however, the priority must be the national interest, not face or atmosphere.
If the ECFA were simply a party-to-party matter, no one would give a second thought about the KMT making a blind date with the Communist Party of China.
Now that the ECFA is a matter of national interest, however, the least we should expect from the government is to demonstrate some leadership and inform the public of its “plan B.”