The extraordinary legislative session is about to begin and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has demanded that the legislative caucuses pass the cross-strait service trade agreement and the free economic pilot zones special draft bill. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) held a DPP policy meeting at which she stressed that the extraordinary session will be an intense battle. The ruling and the opposition parties are thus dead set on passing or blocking these bills from the outset.
When it comes to the service trade agreement and the regulations for the oversight of cross-strait agreements, which are both on the agenda, there is almost no room for compromise between the two sides, who are both likely to take a hardline approach.
The nominees for the Control Yuan and the Examination Yuan, which are also on the agenda, will simply be reviewed according to the rules, and those who do not meet the requirements will be rejected. The only review that may lead to discussion is the review of the draft law on the free economic pilot zones. National Development Council Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) has said that while economic policy can be debated, there should be no reason to fight over this law, while Tsai has said that for the present, the government should focus on industrial development strategies, and that if the Cabinet’s proposal is adjusted in a positive way based on this approach, that would be acceptable.
Following the lessons it has learned from the Sunflower movement, the government has improved its public policy information and communication. It is now even offering an online introduction to the free economic pilot zones to bring policymaking closer to the public, especially the younger generation. It has also produced a short information film for young people, although that has been criticized for not making much sense. Unfortunately, these efforts are too little, too late and too weak.
Tsai’s recent criticism of the free economic pilot zones and Kuan’s rejection of the crititicism means that — although the exchange is belligerent and takes place via the media — there is still dialogue, and compromise has not been completely ruled out. It can only be hoped that the government and the opposition will be able to use the debate over the law on free economic pilot zones to discuss and find a direction for Taiwan’s economic development.
With its version of the zones, the government hopes to promote further economic liberalization and internationalization. However, the thinking behind it follows that of the export processing zones that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had previously introduced.
The system relies on special permits, as the government would offer greater freedom and more tax incentives in special zones and to special industries picked by the government. The DPP thinks the KMT version remains stuck in the manufacturing era and has failed to enter the era of the innovation and technology industries. It also thinks the zones are insufficiently liberalized, and that if the government really wants to have a comprehensive industrial strategy, it should strengthen the guidance of key industries, while the focus for other industries should be on deregulation — only applying controls and restrictions in exceptional situations — instead of offering selective deregulation through permit and special privilege.
If this debate on policy could take place before the draft bill takes on its final shape, it would help improve the legislation, but unfortunately it has been late arriving.
Still, better late than never, and changes to the draft law could still take place in the legislature. Any law that meets current requirements, facilitates internationalization and is beneficial to Taiwan’s economy should be welcomed.