Wed, Sep 11, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Trade pact open to amendment

By Chiang Huang-chih 姜皇池

Foreign affairs are more often than not concerned with highly specialized matters that are confidential. Negotiations are therefore handled by specific departments with the requisite information and competencies at their disposal.

If negotiations have just started and legislators representing different interests become involved, confidentiality could be jeopardized and this would also be out of line with the principles of work specialization. Furthermore, if the outcome of negotiations is eventually reviewed by the legislature, people should not lightly make accusations that the negotiations included backroom deals.

However, given that governments normally wish to see an agreement smoothly enacted, it is normal for those who will be most affected by the signing of an agreement to be consulted, and the leaders of the legislature will be informed about the overall direction and content of the negotiations.

The government did not allow the negotiations for the cross-strait service trade agreement to be debated in the legislature. Because the agreement will affect many areas and involves a large number of interests, an impact assessment and consultation with those likely to be affected should have been carried out. This is the only way to ascertain where the nation’s economic interests lie.

However, the vast majority of those in the service industry had no idea what was happening and it was not until it was announced that the agreement had been signed that they found out how it would affect them. This saw notionwide protests erupt, and only then did the government commission research on the potential repercussions.

The government released an overall economic impact assessment report, in which it said that after the agreement is signed, GDP would increase by only about 0.0025 percent. The report suggests that no assessment on economic interests was carried out, not to mention any analysis on national security or the political implications.

How much communication occurred during the process? A report released by the Mainland Affairs Council stated that the negotiation process involved “individual visits and telephone correspondence” and “small scale, closed communication to gain the opinions of China.” It would therefore seem that only a small minority of businesses from the service sector that have close relations with the government were able to have their interests considered, given that “private telephone correspondence” was used.

This is truly shocking. A report from the Council of Labor Affairs stated that it “cannot deny the possibility that some manufacturers, the self-employed and workers will be affected by the agreement due to stronger external competition,” and recommended the government should “assist people in finding employment and getting professional training.”

If the government plans to sacrifice the many local small and medium-sized businesses in the service sector to meet the financial interests of a few large financial corporations in China, it is little wonder that it has been accused of conducting backroom deals with the Chinese government.

Just as people were getting angry with the government and the legislature was preparing to conduct a detailed review of the agreement, the government once again “instructed” the public about how, according to international law, the agreement cannot be amended, otherwise Taiwan would be in breach of good faith.

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