Wed, Apr 09, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Conferences must tackle deep issues

The government’s decision to convene a series of national economic conferences as part of its concession to end the three-week-long siege of the legislature by students is a good start. With activists planning to leave the chamber tomorrow, social order looks likely to return as the government prepares to reboot.

The legislature will be able to function normally again and start reviewing key draft bills, including a revision to fix a controversial urbanization law, and stock markets might begin to operate without political uncertainty.

The Cabinet said on Monday that it would commence preparatory meetings for the economic conferences scheduled to start later this month, paving the way to bring together government officials, experts and industrial representatives to brainstorm on the best ways to revitalize the economy via bilateral trade ties with China. The first meeting is expected to take place before the end of this month at the earliest and the rest may run through June.

Technology sector heavyweights, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) and Acer Inc cofounder Stan Shih (施振榮), are considered possible attendees, although the Cabinet has not yet released a list.

The government should not limit the conferences to discussing the pros and cons of deepening trade with China or entering other bilateral trade agreements and regional trade blocs.

What must be addressed are the fundamental, underlying issues: the public’s anxieties about soaring cost-of-living expenses, stagnant payrolls, high housing prices, stubbornly high jobless rates and the fear of falling into a Japan-like lost generation — widespread agitation and despair over the future are the forces that drive the public to take to the streets.

The government needs to tackle more than simply whether the legislature should push through the service trade agreement as it stands. The trade deal is just the tip of the iceberg, as China is one of Taiwan’s biggest trade partners.

Instead, the government should expand the agenda of the conferences to cover fundamental economic issues of raising wages, beefing up industrial upgrades and transforming the economy to cope with intensifying global competition.

The government should stop intimidating the public with the threat that Taiwan will lose out to its rivals if it does not sign the service trade pact with China. An example is the Ministry of Economic Affairs attributing a lack of bilateral trade deals to the slower-than-10 percent growth in exports to the US and Europe last month, compared with South Korea’s expansion of more than 20 percent.

Insufficient free-trade agreement (FTA) coverage is part of the reason for lukewarm export growth. However, as it is time-consuming to sign FTAs, the government should come up with more options. More FTAs might help prop up the economy, but the question is whether that growth can trickle down to the public.

The government should do more to improve the country’s competitiveness, rather than just obsess about tearing down trade barriers.

Industrial representatives have suggested measures to boost competitiveness, including relaxations on hiring foreign talent and encouraging industrial upgrades, but this advice has not been taken.

Hopefully, government officials will be all ears when the national economic conferences take place.

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