Recently, Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) publicly criticized several academics for spreading what he said was false information about the cross-strait service trade agreement. He also said that they were hurting Taiwan by obstructing development, a claim that was absurd and even laughable.
As a matter of fact, the issue over the pact is not very complex. There are two basic principles to making any national policy. They are based on the premises of openness and transparency: cost-benefit analysis and distribution of benefits.
First, in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the benefit of a decision needs to outweigh the cost. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) says repeatedly that Taiwan’s gains will outweigh the losses of signing the pact. That being so, the Ma administration should clearly list all of the advantages of signing.
Currently, the advantages listed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs are mainly based on the evaluation report on the economic impact of the cross-strait service trade agreement conducted by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in July last year. However, the final conclusion of the report was that all the prospective effects of the service trade agreement are positive, but the scope of possible benefits is unclear. Without an evaluation on the impact to local industries, the report has become a laughingstock in academic circles.
Second, in terms of the distribution of benefits, even if gains outweigh losses after the service trade agreement is ratified, will these benefits be concentrated in the hands of conglomerates? If so, how can this problem be resolved? We should pay attention that this is not just about using taxpayers’ money to cover the losses of certain sectors. Instead, this is in fact a matter of justice regarding the distribution of benefits. For this part, no assessment report has been forthcoming from the ministry.
Finally, it must be added that since the controversy began, the government has never had a leg to stand on when it comes to its position on transparency. Otherwise, the ministry would give a straight answer to the question of who signed the pact with its 24 articles in the name of Taiwan and China, and how the list was decided on. If it cannot even address these fundamental concerns, is it really an injustice to call the agreement opaque?
I alerted the ministry to the above problems in December last year, but it has refused to right the wrongs, and repeatedly encourages the public to read the full text of the pact carefully, whilst also trying to attract public support by disseminating a short seven-page PowerPoint file which is in effect the service trade agreement for dummies — called the “lazybones’ pack” (懶人包) in Chinese.
Chang should read the 38-page-long PowerPoint file about the impacts of the pact on Taiwan prepared by the director of National Taiwan University’s economics department, Jang Show-ling (鄭秀玲). On the last page of the presentation, Jang concludes that perhaps cross-strait negotiations could learn from US-South Korean talks. Judging from the conclusion, it seems people like Jang are not opposed to the signing of a service trade agreement; they are opposed to the opacity of the agreement that the Ma administration is trying to push through.
Moreover, more seriously, ignorant officials such as Chang only know how to curry favor with their superiors, but do not know what the problems are. They even criticize academics for hurting the nation despite those academics’ efforts to protect the future of Taiwan’s economy. Exactly who is hurting the nation now? The answer seems to be self-evident.