The ramifications of ECFA
The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) appears to be a major defeat for Taiwan. When the Bureau of Foreign Trade entered negotiations about a year ago, it claimed on its Web site that Taiwan would get tariff reductions on petrochemical and machinery products that would add up to an additional US$65 billion in exports at the expense of Japan, South Korea and ASEAN, contributing greatly to GDP and employment.
In fact, Taiwan has gained tariff reductions on shoes, garments and other non-strategic items with an existing trade value of about US$14 billion. Tariff reductions on these items will not revive the affected local industries, will not spur export growth to China and will not bring back Taiwanese shoe and garment makers who have long since moved to China, Vietnam and other low-cost countries.
As far as the trade substance of the ECFA deal is concerned, China has clearly refused to make any significant concessions. The message to Taiwan, and to the US and other countries, is very simple: There is no free lunch in China.
David Reid appears to think that Taiwan needs electoral reform — presumably because he doesn’t like the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which is being pushed through without, in his words, “substantial scrutiny” (Letters, July 15, page 8).
It certainly can’t be for the reasons he claims, that the “pan-blue side have failed to live up to the standards expected in a democracy.” On the contrary, Taiwan is a perfect example of what routinely happens when a democratically elected majority party from the same political party as the head of government or state collude to pass legislation in what they deem to be in the national interest.
Such behavior is more or less a given in many parliamentary democracies, including the one he holds up as an example worthy of emulation, Australia. If there were any uncertainty — or scruples — on the part of pan-blue legislators, they need only glance at the opinion polls, which usually show that a majority of the public actually supports the ECFA.
The spirit of his letter is correct, though. There are problems with Taiwanese democracy, but the choice of electoral system does not seem to me to be of particular importance. There are also very serious issues surrounding the ECFA, not least its status as a “quasi-treaty,” unsigned by any national government. However, this makes complaining about the electoral mechanism all the more odd, given the sheer range of potential — and legitimate — grievances. It is almost redundant to add that the issue of ECFA will not be addressed by making it easier to hold referendums. Notoriously divisive exercises in populist policymaking rarely lead to considered debate and reflection, which is exactly what Taiwan still needs, on what is now a done deal.
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