Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) yesterday dismissed the idea of asking Beijing not to block other countries from signing free-trade agreements (FTA) with Taiwan, saying it was “inappropriate” to use such a demand as a precondition for the economic pact the administration intends to sign with Beijing in May.
If such a precondition were set, Chiang said, he was afraid that it would create “additional difficulties” and delay the negotiations for an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).
Chiang made the remarks in an interview with former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) that was published online by the Formosa Weekly yesterday. The weekly was founded by former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮).
Chiang said China might “have some opinions” on Taiwan’s effort to sign FTAs with other countries, but President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government would do its best to pursue FTAs and seek Beijing’s support once the ECFA is signed.
As for the call made by the DPP to sign a trade agreement under the framework of the WTO, Chiang said the ECFA would be inked in accordance with the WTO’s “spirit and regulations.”
Both sides would follow up by signing another agreement on commodity trade and all the signed accords would be sent to the WTO for examination, he said.
When asked why the two sides couldn’t sign an FTA based on WTO rules, Chiang said such negotiations would take time, possibly one to two years, and therefore could not respond to the immediate impact of ASEAN Plus One.
“That’s why the government decided to refer to the negotiation model used by ASEAN countries and China,” he said.
“First we sign a framework agreement, including a list of ‘early harvest’ items, and then negotiate another agreement on commodity trade,” he said.
Because Ma has promised not to allow the import of more kinds of Chinese agricultural products, Chiang said there would be “absolutely no agricultural items in the initial planning.”
Since the ECFA would require legislation or legal revisions, the proposed pact would be sent to the legislature for review, he said, urging the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and opposition parties to cooperate to ensure speedy passage of the planned pact.
“If the two parties continue to oppose each other, it will eventually undermine Taiwan’s economic development,” he said.
DPP spokesman Tsai Chi-chan (蔡其昌), however, said that if the Ma government truly agreed that Taiwan should expand its trade, not only with China, it should make use of the ECFA negotiations to ask Beijing not to interfere with FTA negotiations with other countries.
“Chiang’s remarks proved again the KMT government wants to tie Taiwan’s economy to a single country — China,” Tsai said. “It’s regrettable the government is neglecting mainstream public opinion and Taiwan’s interests.”
Meanwhile, Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) yesterday reiterated the importance of signing an ECFA with China while addressing more than a dozen of Taiwan’s representatives to East Asian countries.
Siew called the proposed pact a “necessary condition” to Taiwan’s participation in regional economic integration.
The pact was a “threshold” that could “open a lot more doors for Taiwan” and avoid its marginalization and hollowing out in a fast-changing global economy, Siew said.