I never expected that I would become a household name. I never wanted to become a public figure, and a few years ago, when former vice premier Paul Chiu (邱正雄) asked me to be a member of the National Communications Commission, I politely declined.
My contact with the cross-strait service trade agreement was entirely accidental. One day in June last year, as I was washing my hair, I happened to read Rex How’s (郝明義) article “We have less than 24 hours (我們剩不到2十4小時了).” At that time, the government and China had just signed the agreement. As an academic who has spent a long time studying industrial economics, I felt that it was necessary to understand the agreement, and so I took the plunge.
I realized that the agreement was unequal, not only as it would have a massive impact on the public, but also because the sectors that Taiwan would unilaterally open up to China — advertising, printing, the wholesale and retail sale of books, telecommunications, transportation — would affect Taiwan’s freedom of speech and national security, and even endanger democracy and freedom. Just thinking about it kept me awake at night.
Influenced by Sun Chen (孫震), economics professor and former president of National Taiwan University, who used to be an active participant in public debate, I submitted an article to the media on July 1 last year in which I attempted to explain the pact and its possible consequences.
When I could not find any explanations or assessment reports by the government, as the chairwoman of the university’s Public Economics Research Center, I organized nine forums and invited academics and experts in economics, journalism, law and telecommunications to participate in discussions from July to December last year.
In addition to creating 15 slide presentations of the research presented at the forums, we selected the three most important sectors that would be affected by the agreement for an impact assessment.
This information is available on the center’s Web site and at www.facebook.com/renegotiation.
Over the past nine months, we have made a great effort to complete these measures — work which should have been done by the government.
KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung’s (張慶忠) decision to pass the agreement 30 seconds into a joint legislative committee meeting has met a strong backlash, and everyone wants to know what is in the pact. The information we have put on Facebook is the only reference material available in Taiwan. This has been termed a “service trade agreement for dummies,” but when the government got wind of it, instead of providing the public with a better version, it began to discredit us by saying we were endangering the country.
Lately, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and other officials, ministers and leaders of industry have again been telling the public that the advantages of this agreement outweigh its shortcomings as “China is opening up 80 items to Taiwan, while Taiwan is only opening 64 items to China.” They do not seem to understand that opening up the wholesale and retail sector will include — in addition to weaponry, agricultural products, drugstores and pharmacies — the wholesale and retail sale of books. Still Ma says that the publishing industry will not be deregulated.
Another problem is that the provision of cross-border services is unequal. Based on my understanding, these pretty, but empty statements which all avoid being negative are made by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research’s WTO and Regional Trade Agreement Center.
It is expected that the proposed conference on trade will be a farce dominated by slogans.
Anyone, high official or ordinary person, should look at the specific commitments made in the attachments to the agreement before they decide whether to support it. It will have a direct impact on our jobs and living standards, and it has nothing to with whether you support the pan-blue or the pan-green camp
Jang Show-ling is chairwoman of the Public Economics Research Center at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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