Taipei and Beijing will launch official negotiations on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) in the middle of or late this month, hoping to seal a deal by May, Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) said yesterday.
Shih told the legislature’s Economics Committee that as ASEAN Plus One went into effect on Friday, he was “very worried” about the impact it would have on Taiwan’s economy.
“We hope to participate in East Asian regional integration, which includes signing an ECFA with Beijing and free-trade agreements [FTA] with ASEAN countries,” he said. “If we can sign an ECFA with Beijing, it will help us sign FTAs with other countries.”
As the administration hopes to sign an ECFA during the next round of cross-strait talks scheduled to be held in China in May, Shih said Taipei intends to begin official negotiations on the proposed pact sometime this month.
While recent polls conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council showed support for the planned accord has gradually declined in recent months, Shih said the ministry would make an aggressive effort to obtain more support from the public.
Responding to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers’ suggestion to invite Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) — a convicted criminal — to serve as an ECFA spokesperson, Shih said he would try to make the arrangement. While government officials have been criticized for using complicated language to promote the pact, Yen is considered to be someone who uses “common language” to communicate with “common people.”
Saying Yen might be too busy to take up the job, KMT Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) proposed inviting singer and TV hostess Pai Ping-ping (白冰冰) and comedian Chu Ko-liang (豬哥亮) to help the administration promote an ECFA.
KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) proposed adding gezai opera (歌仔戲) diva Sun Tsui-feng (孫翠鳳) to the list. Another KMT Legislator, Chao Li-yon (趙麗雲), however, said nothing could help secure more support for an ECFA than the government, because if the administration cannot make businesses that stand to be affected by an ECFA believe their interests would be protected, public backing was unlikely to grow.
Shih said an ECFA would benefit some businesses and hurt others, and that the government would earmark a 10-year, NT$95 billion (US$2.9 billion) budget to assist businesses that are adversely affected by the deal.
KMT Legislator Lin Tsang-min (林滄敏), however, questioned whether the amount was sufficient and proposed obtaining some of the funds from other businesses.
With President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) saying his administration would not allow the import of more agricultural products from China, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄) put his career on the line, saying an ECFA would not address the issue and that he would honor the promise during his term.
DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) asked how much longer the government could resist pressure by China as Beijing intends to file a complaint at the WTO about Taiwan’s restrictions on Chinese products.
Shih said he understood China had no immediate plan to take Taiwan to the WTO and that the government has made its position clear to China that it would not allow more Chinese products to enter the local market during “unofficial exchanges of opinions.”