China is also no longer willing to make further unilateral concessions to Taiwan. Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming (陳德銘), who is expected to take over as chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, said at a press conference during the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress in November last year that Taiwan should put the principle of equality into practice by giving most-favored-nation treatment to Chinese goods in cases where its markets are open to similar goods from other countries.
At present, the nation still imposes unilateral restrictions on imports of 2,126 product categories from China, yet it is asking China to make unilateral concessions to it during negotiations about a cross-strait services trade agreement. No wonder Chinese officials involved in the negotiations have privately criticized Taiwanese officials as “brazen and shameless.”
The Ma government should avoid repeating the experience of the ECFA, whose benefits have not been felt by most Taiwanese. The ECFA was only a framework agreement when it was first signed and called on China to make unilateral concessions to Taiwan for the sake of short-term political expediency. This has made the ECFA ineffective. In future, if 90 percent of product categories are targeted for liberalization in a cross-trade agreement, the nation will have to liberalize trade in 9,645 product categories.
For cross-strait commodity and service trade agreements to produce clearly tangible benefits it will require wide-reaching deregulation on an equal basis. If the nation is going to deregulate on such a big scale, the Ma administration will have to be determined to push forward economic liberalization and will need to establish an internal consensus on effective integration.
At present, cross-strait trade negotiations are in trouble because of their slow pace, limited deregulation and demand for concessions from the other side. They have neither brought obvious benefits for the nation’s economic development, nor resolved its isolation.
Taiwan needs the determination to implement all-round economic liberalization and to promote an equal, and far-reaching cross-strait trade liberalization agreement. Only by so doing can the nation take advantage of the situation to ask China to demonstrate goodwill by not obstructing, or even going out of its way to help Taiwan engage in, FTA talks with ASEAN and making a breakthrough in cross-strait relations.
Tung Chen-yuan is a professor in National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Development Studies.
Translated by Julian Clegg