The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has frequently utilized government ministries and agencies to publicize the supposed benefits and urgency of signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.
But many questions remain over the economic and trade activities that the negotiations will cover, and over the processes that would introduce an ECFA.
A policy explanation released by the Mainland Affairs Council said that the ECFA would be transparent and thus gain public support. The truth, however, is that most Taiwanese do not understand what the ECFA will contain or is supposed to do, which means any talk of endorsing the government’s decision is premature.
The level of public participation in public affairs is an important indicator of sustainable development. If the government is serious about sustainable development, seeking public opinion across different sectors of society should be at the top of its list in promoting an ECFA.
In addition, some private industries like petroleum and plastic have consistently worked with or urged the government to promote an ECFA. This is not a good example of corporate social responsibility and is in conflict with the basic spirit and goals of sustainable development.
Signing an ECFA would lower tariffs and help exports for Taiwanese industries relating to plastics, chemicals, iron, steel and machinery. These vested interests would obviously benefit from an ECFA, but they are industries that emit high amounts of carbon, consume large amounts of energy and produce large amounts of pollution.
If the government is serious about implementing its energy conservation and carbon emission reduction policy, it should develop policies that accelerate the transformation and elimination of the abovementioned industries as soon as possible, while establishing an industrial model that includes low carbon emissions, low energy consumption and the minimizing of pollution.
Although there is some academic support for signing an ECFA, almost all who support it base their theories on traditional ways of thinking about a free economy and trade, saying that further cross-strait trade is the only way to increase Taiwan’s economic output.
The free economy model has its good points and we can make use of them, but the promotion of a sustainable development model needs a wider range of ideas and much more discussion. It is inappropriate to allow traditional thinking on a free economy to head this effort.
For example, theories on a green economy and the lifestyle it entails are based on the concept of sustainable development. Such theories emphasize local production and consumption and do not encourage long-distance international trade. This is an example of how thought on sustainable economics is developing in step with what we need most at this time.
I would remind the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that ignoring or downplaying the unique political relations that exist between Taiwan and China is not the approach of a responsible government. Further, blindly attempting to increase trade is not a way to encourage sustainable development.
The government should focus on ways to improve quality of life. Only on such a foundation can it design models for industrial transformation and cross-strait trade that are beneficial to Taiwan’s sustainable development.
Brian Chi-ang Lin is a professor in and chair of the Department of Public Finance at National Chengchi University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON