Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said yesterday she believed Beijing would not obstruct Taiwan from signing free-trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries.
“I personally do not think the mainland will interfere,” she said. “Based on the experience we have over the past 20 months, we don’t think the mainland will hamper our efforts.”
When asked what she based her assertion on, Lai said the council hadn’t received any messages from China since last spring saying that Beijing would hinder Taiwan’s bid to sign agreements with other countries.
When asked whether the administration had any strategy in place in the event of obstruction by Beijing, she reiterated that she did not think this would happen.
Lai made the remarks during a question-and-answer session at the council’s lunar year-end press conference.
Lai said it was administration policy to negotiate FTAs with other countries concurrently with negotiations on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with Beijing. The signing of FTAs with other countries would not be on the agenda of cross-strait negotiations because it is not a cross-strait issue, she said.
She said the reason Taiwan wants an ECFA is because China is its biggest export market, but she emphasized that the planned pact is not the country’s only economic policy.
While some have proposed that the negotiation team ask China not to block Taiwan’s attempt to sign FTAs, Lai said Taiwan does not need the approval of anyone, emphasizing that the matter would hinge on government efforts and the attitude of other countries.
She also criticized those who proposed that the ECFA take effect in tandem with FTAs with Japan and the US, urging them to stop looking at economic issues from a political and ideological viewpoint.
When asked whether sovereignty was the main reason why both sides cannot sign an FTA, but can sign an ECFA, Lai said the planned pact would regulate cross-strait trade and business relations, which she described as “special.”
“When we negotiate the ECFA, it does not concern sovereignty or politics because it is an economic agreement,” she said.
An FTA covers more areas and takes more time to negotiate, she said, while a framework agreement is easier and simpler, she said.
“Why should we waste our time on a more complicated FTA?” she asked.
She also dismissed a comment by Taiwan Thinktank chairman Chen Po-chih (陳博志), who said the ECFA is “a bad egg and a stinking one.”
Lai said Chen’s analogy was erroneous, adding that the ECFA was not a bad egg but a “hen that will lay eggs.”
Meanwhile, a high-ranking MAC official who wished to remain anonymous said yesterday that a proposed ban on increased imports of Chinese agricultural products would not be included in an ECFA.
Since the proposed pact is a framework, the official said it would not touch on such details. It would, however, be clearly stipulated in the supplementary agreement, she said. Nor did either side want to specify a time frame for forming a free-trade area in the ECFA, she said, nor a comprehensive agreement on traded goods, taking into account that such a description would cause concern among those hit hard by the accords.
In response, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday lambasted Lai for “lying through her teeth.”
“Anyone with any knowledge of Taiwan’s politics knows China has relentlessly obstructed Taiwan’s efforts to sign FTAs with other countries. This is why so little progress has been made in that area,” DPP Spokesman Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said.