The deal, signed on Sept. 9 and quietly tabled late last month, is to be ratified, behind closed doors, within just 21 sitting days and without any public hearings. Legislators on the trade committee were briefed for just one hour by government officials last week, with no independent witnesses present.
To any Taiwanese who has tracked the style of negotiations between President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration and China in the past four years, the situation described above will sound eerily familiar.
However, the deal in question is not the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in 2010 after six months of negotiations, or the investment protection agreement inked on Aug. 9. It is the Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement (FIPA) between China and Canada, which critics say requires public scrutiny and risks putting Canada at a disadvantage.
However, the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to hold public hearings and seems intent on forging ahead with an agreement that even its supporters admit contains flaws.
Among the most alarming aspects of the deal are its 31-year lifespan, in contrast with the six months’ warning necessary for Ottawa to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the failure by Canadian negotiators to ensure that investors receive “national treatment” in China, which means that, at best, Canadian investors in China can expect treatment similar to that enjoyed by domestic Chinese firms. Moreover, Canada would be barred from imposing conditions favoring Canadian workers or resources for projects within Canada and it would be forced to restrict domestic access to fossil fuels, uranium, forests, fish and all other exhaustible resources in equal measure to any restrictions placed on exports to China, as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said in an Oct. 1 press release.
Needless to say, such clauses are cause for concern when one deals with a resource-hungry rising power like China, whose state-owned firms are in the process of acquiring a large segment of Canada’s oil companies and fields, such as the proposed US$15 billion Nexen deal.
Then there is the clause that allows Chinese state-owned enterprises to sue the Canadian government for laws, regulations and court decisions that could “interfere with or prevent present or future profits.” While NAFTA contains similar provisions, FIPA goes further, as litigation could be done in secret with special tribunals, in which only the federal government can participate, leaving local governments and firms out in the cold.
The problem with all this is that investment between Canada and China is likely to be mostly one-way, with Chinese investment vastly outgunning that from Canada. This means that the risks are mostly Canada’s.
The Taiwanese government should pay close attention to what transpires between Canada and China in the coming months and years, as Beijing’s behavior and that of Chinese companies could provide important clues as to how they might behave in Taiwan. There are many instances of overlap, in which “unjust” clauses tend to favor China, and those could gain in importance as Taipei further opens up the country to Chinese investment.
It has often been said that Taiwan’s engagement with China can serve as a model for the international community and as a means to “predict” Beijing’s behavior. It is now apparent that Taiwan is not the only country that is facing skewed agreements. It may not have Canada’s natural resources, but intellectual property rights and company secrets in key high-tech sectors are just as likely to be targeted by Chinese investors. Most assuredly, Taiwan can learn a few things from Canada’s FIPA experience with China.
Having returned to the UK late last year and with a Taiwanese spouse remaining in Taiwan, I have been afforded the chance to compare and contrast the UK and Taiwanese governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. My early conclusions are that Taiwan benefits from a rational, competent government, which quickly recognizes, adapts to and confronts large-scale disasters. It is led by a government that does more than just talk of respecting democracy and human rights, one that is scrutinized and responds to criticism, one that is concerned about public opinion, and one that is used to dealing with emergencies on
Early last month, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) was elected party chairman, winning with a seven-to-three majority over pro-Beijing former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), a two-time KMT vice chairman. Chiang’s victory has been interpreted as a generational change and the beginning of major party reform. In his inauguration speech on March 9, Chiang did not mention the so-called “1992 consensus.” Analysts believe that his most urgent task is to attract more young people to the party and win voter trust, and that he does not care about Beijing’s reaction. After joining the party chairmanship by-election, Chiang made his
A day does not go by without some news or media update about the spread of COVID-19. It is impossible to even remember exactly when it was not like this. Such is the nature of the pandemic that is crisscrossing the world. Cities and countries are on lockdown. People are hoarding. Health services are being overtaxed. Racism has also grown rampant as non-involved Asians around the world are being blamed for what originated from a bureaucratic cover-up in Wuhan, China. There are innumerable lessons to be learned from this, far too many to be listed here. This article will focus