Since the review of the service trade agreement with China has been blocked since last year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has asked former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) to form a committee to promote the agreement to the public and ask that the government and civil society work together to propose a plan for entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by next month.
Ma really does not seem to understand why the agreement is stuck in the legislature.
Ma did not ask Siew to help out because Siew used to be his “chief economic designer.” If he really believed that, why did he not make use of Siew while he was still Ma’s deputy?
The real reason is that Siew has a good relationship with the opposition and that he gained quite a reputation during Taiwan’s WTO talks.
Simply, Ma wants to use Siew’s personal network to control the opposition.
A comparison is would be when US President Barack Obama encountered problems during the TPP talks.
To speed up the signing, the Republican and the Democrat congressional leaders proposed a congressional trade priorities act to pave the way for the Trade Authority Promotion Act (TPA).
Due to the complexity of the TPP, Congress will vote on trade agreements signed under the TPA as a complete package, rather than reviewing each individual article. If Congress disagrees, it rejects the whole agreement and cannot delay it by introducing amendments.
The TPA is not a blank check for the government. It requires that representatives be included prior to the negotiation process begins, and Congress can only vote on the whole package once talks are completed.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) has pointed out that before trade talks can begin, Congress must first authorize talks, and representatives of both Congress and the Senate will participate in the talks and report back to Congress, which makes for a smooth review process.
That was why Wang called for the establishment of a legislative task force for handling cross-strait affairs. He also pointed out that it was only during former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) stint as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairman that a similar task force had been previously suggested, although it was rejected.
Another example is the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) suggestion for an act regulating the handling of agreements between Taiwan and China, and Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), a research professor at Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae, who has suggested an act for monitoring the review and signing of cross-strait agreements.
The Ma administration has ignored all such suggestions.
Ma’s popularity rating is in the doldrums, but he will not take a direct look at the fundamental issue, which is to legally formalize the legislature’s right to take part in trade talks. Instead, he follows the fantastical notion that using Siew’s personal contacts will help him handle the opposition.
The service trade agreement only deals with the deregulation of 64 industries, but the legislature is still moving forward with excruciating slowness.
The future cross-strait trade in goods agreement will involve the deregulation of several thousands of products, but amazingly, Ma has simply decided to use Vincent Siew as a shield.
This complete disregard for public opinion is certain to create a backlash.
Julian Kuo is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Perry Svensson