The cross-strait service trade agreement has caused much controversy, but President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration still plans to push it through during the second extraordinary legislative session later this month.
Judging by the comments from top Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials that closed-door negotiations are standard international procedure, that not a single paragraph can be changed and that opposition is a result of rumor-mongering, it is clear that the Ma administration will insist on ramming the agreement through.
Whether it will be able to do so will depend on whether legislators will yield to a president whose support ratings are only in double digits, or if they decide to fully reflect public opinion.
There are a number of reasons to oppose the agreement. For example, its signing violated both democracy and common sense, and that makes it difficult to support it. From beginning to end, there was no legislative oversight of the negotiation process, and the government failed to consult with industry in advance, in particular with the industries that would be most directly affected.
As a consequence, as much as 80 percent of Taiwan’s service industry was completely unaware that their businesses would be opened to Chinese competition. Most absurd of all, the agreement was signed last month and the legislature is set to review it this month, but the government says that it will not be able to release its impact assessment report until September.
If the legislature passes the agreement untouched, effectively acting as Ma’s private rubber stamp, this would in effect castrate Taiwan’s legislative foundations.
Legislators will attract the contempt of the public who are already saying that the legislature is nothing but a herd of “swine lawmakers” that it should be closed down for good.
In response to the criticism, the Ma administration used the US Congress as an example in its defense, saying that Congress too can only review an international agreement as a whole package, rather than clause by clause, and that the agreement will become invalid if clauses are altered or deleted. This is illusory.
It is only true under the fast-track procedure for the US’ economic and trade negotiations, yet the fast-track procedure can only be granted with Congress’ authorization, and furthermore Congress must be informed about negotiations 90 days prior to talks.
Congress also establishes a committee and recruits representatives from the sectors involved as advisers to reflect the views of all sides during the negotiation process.
Taiwan should establish this kind of system, which takes into consideration both legislative oversight and lawmaking efficiency, instead of violating democracy and common sense.
The administration is ignoring democratic procedure while demanding the legislature’s endorsement. It is able to do so thanks to the rubber-stamp legislators in the Legislative Yuan and especially its legislators-at-large, whose job should be speaking up for the general public.
Because Taiwan’s legislative branch does not have a two-chamber system, the representation of the legislators-at-large is crucial. Yet these legislators have become nothing more than puppets for the ruling party. When they vote, they only care about party interests, rather than the interests of the public. When it comes to the signing of the service trade pact, will our legislators behave like swine lawmakers, or will they safeguard the nation’s democracy? Taiwanese are watching them closely.
Lu Shih-hsiang is an adviser to the Taipei Times.
Translated by Eddy Chang