Taipei and Beijing will hold the first round of official negotiations on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) tomorrow in Beijing, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) said yesterday.
President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration hopes to ink the proposed pact in May during the fifth round of talks between SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Chinese counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).
Chiang and Chen agreed last month during talks in Taichung to place the proposed pact and protection of intellectual property in the next round of meetings scheduled for the first half of this year, possibly in May.
The SEF said in a statement yesterday that tomorrow’s negotiations would be conducted by delegations headed by SEF Secretary-General Kao Koong-lian (高孔廉) and ARATS Executive Vice Minister Zheng Lizhong (鄭立中).
ARATS said in a statement published on the Xinhua news agency Web site yesterday that the “expert discussions were expected to focus on the evaluation of the results and proposals of joint research by academic institutions on both sides on this issue and discussing the official name and basic structure of the economic cooperation framework.”
Xinua said ARATS hoped both sides could “keep to the principle of equality and mutual benefit, seek common ground while reserving differences for the promotion of the economic cooperation in an active and steady manner.”
In an interview with the Taipei Times on Thursday, Ma said that signing the ECFA was “just the beginning” and that eventually the two sides would establish “something similar to a free-trade area.”
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994 stipulates that the working party of any interim agreement must make appropriate recommendations on the proposed time frame and on measures required to complete the formation of a free-trade area or customs union.
Ma denied during the interview that the government would be coerced into fully opening markets in 10 years, saying any country facing such a situation could refer the problem to the WTO.
Article XXIV of the GATT 1994 states that the “reasonable length of time” for opening markets should exceed 10 years only in exceptional cases. The contracting party believing 10 years would be insufficient shall provide a full explanation to the Council for Trade in Goods of the need for a longer period.
A senior Mainland Affairs Council official who wished to remain anonymous told the Taipei Times yesterday that once an ECFA is signed, 90 percent of the local market would be opened within 10 years.
The Ma administration, however, does not want to provide a time frame for forming a free-trade area, the official said, taking into account that such a description would cause concern among those hit hard by the accords.
Nor did they want to do so in a comprehensive agreement on traded goods, a supplementary accord that would follow after the ECFA is signed, the official said.
At a separate setting yesterday, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) reiterated the government’s promise that it would not open Taiwan’s market further to Chinese agricultural products, nor allow Chinese laborers to work in Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Flora Wang