A Presidential Office official last night backpedaled on remarks made by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday on whether discussions on signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China would be included in upcoming cross-strait negotiations.
While attending the annual Hsieh Nien Fan hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce, Ma said he hoped Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) would discuss the possibility of signing an economic agreement while meeting Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in their forthcoming round of cross-strait talks, which are expected to take place in May or June in Beijing.
The agenda should include issues such as daily scheduled flights, joint efforts to combat crime, two-way investments and discussions about signing an ECFA, Ma said, adding that Taiwan should adopt a step-by-step approach in promoting the proposal.
"We can have a framework first, then we can discuss and deal with more urgent issues. We don't need to rush," Ma said at the time, adding that the proposed agreement was purely economic and would not involve sensitive issues such as sovereignty, independence or unification with China.
Later last night however, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) was quoted in a Central News Agency report as saying that because of time constraints, the upcoming Chiang-Chen talks would not touch on ECFA issues, but added that the president hoped an exchange of opinions on the issue would take place on the sidelines of the Chiang-Chen meeting.
Approached by reporters on her way to the legislative floor yesterday, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said that if the president wanted the ECFA included in the forthcoming talks, the MAC would make arrangements.
“An ECFA could probably be brought up as a topic at the upcoming talks between Chiang and Chen if consensus is reached in the country beforehand and both sides of the Taiwan Strait are prepared,” she said.
Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), however, was more reserved on the matter than Lai.
"For the time being, we have no plan to place this on the formal agenda for the third cross-strait negotiations,” Liu said when fielding questions from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) and Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) during a question-and-answer session yesterday.
“I believe what President Ma was referring to was an initial exchange of ideas [on the ECFA issue] on the sidelines of the [Chiang-Chen] meeting without getting into substantial contents [of the pact],” Liu said.
Liu said his administration would not forbid SEF negotiators from talking about the ECFA issue at the meeting, but added that the talks "will generate neither resolution nor outcome."
Later yesterday, when questioned by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chung Shao-ho (鍾紹和) over whether the economic pact could further open the country's doors to agricultural products from China, Liu reiterated his administration’s position on retaining the current cap on Chinese agricultural products.
"Besides the more than 1,000 agricultural products already approved for importation, we will not approve others from the 800 agricultural products on the prohibition import list," Liu said.