To ease public concerns over what many see as the government’s lack of transparency and communication regarding cross-strait trade talks, the nation’s negotiating team last week undertook a daily 10-minute media progress report during the ninth round of talks on a goods trade pact with China.
Unsurprisingly, Bureau of Foreign Trade Director-General Jenni Yang (楊珍妮) used the 10 minutes to project “safe” or “neutral” information about the day’s trade negotiations alongside her Chinese counterpart, head of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s Department of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, Chen Xing (陳星).
Even though the top Taiwanese negotiator went no further than that and would not discuss the nation’s bottom line regarding domestic industry concessions, Yang established a precedent for future talks when it comes to informing the public.
Both sides of the Taiwan Strait in the meeting last week reviewed progress made during previous rounds of talks and exchanged views on issues related to tariff cuts, structure of goods, rules on product origin, quarantine measures and trade remedies.
However, the discussions were not limited to those technical issues, as Taiwan expressed its concerns about the ongoing talks on a free-trade agreement between China and South Korea, and China voiced worries over the progress of an oversight bill on all future cross-strait pacts pending in the legislature.
Most importantly, China also expressed its interest in tapping into Taiwan’s agricultural market and other industrial segments including textiles, garments and shoemaking, Yang said.
Whether Yang wished to communicate with the press or was doing so under the pressure of public opinion, her actions should be recognized.
During the past eight rounds of talks for a trade in goods agreement with Beijing, and throughout the negotiations for the controversial cross-strait service trade agreement signed with China in June last year, or in the similar free-trade pact talks with Singapore and New Zealand, the public and even lawmakers were mostly kept in the dark about the government’s plans for trade discussions.
It is not clear whether the government’s negotiating team will continue such briefings at the next round of talks, which are set to be held in China, but the student-led Sunflower movement protests in March should be a reminder to the government that it must work hard and with sincerity to remedy the issue of transparency.
A more effective means of informing the nation about the challenges presented by the global environment would be to involve people from all walks of life in frank dialogue, which would make it easier for businesses, policymakers and the public to stay ahead of any emerging crises.
Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go before Taiwan can ink a merchandise trade deal with China, since any trade agreement involves give and take.
Is the nation prepared for the impact that weaker traditional businesses will face after the cross-strait goods trade pact is signed? How should Taiwan respond to China’s demand to open the nation’s markets in weak industrial segments in exchange for tariff cuts on automobile, petrochemical, flat panel and machine tool products?
Yang and her negotiating team face some difficult issues, but one certainty is that support can be gained by communicating with the public in a much more engaging way.
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