The sixth round of talks between Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) are no big deal. The agreement that was signed yesterday deals only with cooperation on cross-strait medical and health issues; Chiang and Chen have postponed the establishment of a cross-strait economic cooperation committee under the SEF and the ARATS. This committee would handle the implementation of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and follow up on economic issues. It will have far-reaching effects that would very likely be disastrous for Taiwan’s economic future.
SEF Vice Chairman Kao Koong-lian (高孔廉) and ARATS Deputy Chairman Zheng Lizhong (鄭立中) will chair the committee, and Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Francis Liang (梁國新) and Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Jiang Zengwei (姜增偉), who is in charge of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau affairs, will serve as conveners. The committee will have seven task forces convened by officials at different levels at the competent authorities. These will deal with goods, the service industry, the financial industry, intellectual property rights, economic cooperation, conflict resolution and investment.
On the surface, the committee is merely an administrative organization for dealing with cross-strait economic matters, but when dealing with follow-up issues resulting from the ECFA, its decisions will not have to pass legislative review. The committee will thus have the power to set cross-strait economic policy without being monitored by elected representatives. This might be normal in China’s autocratic environment, but in Taiwan, it would be illegal and unconstitutional for an organization that has not received legal authorization to have the power to decide what products can be traded across the Taiwan Strait and on related procedures and tax rates — all of which can affect the economic rights and duties of Taiwanese — without any supervision by elected officials.
Although the government defends the committee by saying that it will be established in accordance with the ECFA, it has been loudly opposed by academics and experts. Once the committee is up and running, cross-strait talks are over, because in the future there will no longer be discussions on anything resembling an equal footing and the public will be unable to supervise economic cooperation.
The decisions by the economic cooperation committee will have no input from any elected representatives. The lack of prior consultation with such officials means that no decision it makes will have been endorsed by elected institutions. If decisions later harm the rights and interests of the public, people will have nowhere to turn and this will be a constant source of conflict and social division.
Although the Ma administration likes to flaunt its control of the executive and legislative branches of the government, it has bypassed legislative oversight to expedite cross-strait economic cooperation. Although this greatly simplifies administrative matters, the government will have to pay the long-term political price. The Democratic Progressive Party is certain to ask for a constitutional interpretation of the economic cooperation committee, and the conflict over its establishment will add further legitimacy to the ECFA referendum proposal submitted by the Taiwan Solidarity Union. The establishment of an economic cooperation committee would be unwise and shortsighted.