Several days ago, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), concerned that the cross-strait service trade agreement has yet to be passed in the legislature, said that the emergence of the Shanghai free-trade zone and other pilot zones in the area have already offset the advantages that the agreement would have provided in the Fujian area, and that the situation would be dire if the trade pact is not passed.
However, Ma’s statement leads to several questions. First, if a nascent Shanghai zone could really neutralize the benefits the service trade agreement is purported to bring to Taiwan, what happened to the claims by the Ma administration that the pact would shore up Taiwan’s service industry, or of the magical transformative effect it would have for Taiwanese businesses in China?
Second, the many items that would be deregulated for Taiwanese companies in China as part of the pact would be limited to Fujian Province: Is this the core reason that these supposed benefits would be canceled out so quickly by the Shanghai zone? If so, this means that it is all the more important that the terms of the pact are renegotiated, so that they are more equal and balanced. That is, China should agree to open up in its entirety to Taiwanese businesses, in all its provinces and cities, and not just one specific region.
Third, other cities in China, such as Tianjin and Xiamen, are already proactively applying for pilot free-trade zone status. In a few years’ time, when China has these free-trade zones dotted all over, what is Taiwan to do then? The government needs to explain this to the Taiwanese public.
All along, the Ma administration has been spouting all kinds of supposed threats to Taiwan in its efforts to persuade the public about the importance of the cross-strait service trade agreement.
With the rapid passage of the free-trade agreement between Taiwan and New Zealand late last month, and the imminent economic agreement with Singapore, the government seems to be reluctant to explore just why it is that the public is so expectant about the possibility of signing comprehensive free-trade agreements with other countries, and yet is so reticent about furthering trade ties with China.
The thing that is truly dire is that the government persists in pushing the passage of the cross-strait service trade pact in spite of this widely acknowledged and quite evident mainstream public opinion.
Huang Tzu-wei is a researcher at Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Paul Cooper