Prior to the signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement on Friday last week, national policy adviser Rex How (郝明義), who supported President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in both his presidential campaigns, felt forced to publish an open letter with the title “We have less than 24 hours.”
How said that the agreement would be a catastrophe for the publishing industry and demanded that the signing ceremony be postponed. While no postponement was forthcoming, Ma offered How an explanation through Presidential Office Secretary-General Timothy Yang (楊進添) and Minister Without Portfolio Schive Chi (薛琦), who is in charge of the service trade agreement.
Chi’s explanation upset How even more, prompting him to write a second open letter. In it, he criticized the government, saying that it “neglects the sensitivity of cross-strait affairs, presumptuously works behind closed doors, is ignorant and does not understand the situation on the mainland [China], arrogantly ignores industrial needs and lacks compassion for Taiwan’s small and medium enterprises.”
The problem is the service trade agreement covers many industries and will have a far-reaching impact.
The agreement has been designed to serve the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ideological ends. That is why it was the result of closed-door politics with China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and there has been a total absence of government information, communication or explanation about it.
It is very likely that the new agreement will be handled like other pacts under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA): It will be submitted to the legislature, where it will be delayed on technicalities until it takes effect automatically to avoid review by opposition lawmakers.
This procedure for negotiations between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party flies in the face of Taiwan’s democratic process.
It would appear that the service trade pact constitutes a mutual opening up of markets, but the example of the publishing industry shows that the deregulation is a chimera.
While it allows China’s publishing and printing industries to enter the free and unregulated Taiwanese market, backed up by their low costs, cheap materials and cheap labor; Taiwanese companies that want to enter the Chinese market will face a legal labyrinth in which every publication requires licensing and will be subjected to government reviews prior to and after publication.
Chinese officials can make up any excuse they want to cause trouble and stop any publication they desire, causing entrepreneurs’ time, money and hard work to go to waste.
It might appear that this is an equal agreement, but it is an agreement for unequal competition involving two very different economic systems.
The government is not only unwilling and unable to understand the service industries’ situation, but by signing the agreement, it is placing a noose around the neck of Taiwan’s economy, not tossing it a life-line.
The agreement has already been signed. All that can be done now is for the legislature to assess its impact industry-by-industry, adjust the degree of deregulation article-by-article and, if necessary, return the agreement and request that it be renegotiated and re-signed.
If the KMT wants to play tricks to extend the process until the pact takes place by default, the names of those legislators who abet it should be made public to force them to decide which is more important: party discipline or the next election.