The Presidential Office yesterday hit back at critics — including former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) — who said on Saturday that an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) the government is seeking to sign with Beijing this year will undermine Taiwan’s competitiveness.
Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said the administration was more than happy to explain the trade pact to Lee, who expressed concern over what he called the government’s “China-friendly” policy. Lee also questioned China’s sincerity following its recent promises to help Taiwan sign free-trade agreements (FTA) with other countries if Taipei signs an ECFA, saying Beijing “never means what it says and will lie if that serves its purposes.”
Lo said the administration would proceed with the planned agreement on condition that the country needs it, the public supports it and the legislature supervises it.
Lo also repudiated remarks by former US diplomat John Tkacik, who warned that an ECFA would marginalize Taiwan economically and deal a blow to workers and farmers.
He said the administration respected Tkacik’s “personal view,” but that it was the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration’s cross-strait policy that was the main culprit in Taiwan’s marginalization.
“We hope Mr Tkacik will first understand who is hurting Taiwan’s agriculture before he makes any comment,” Lo said.
Meanwhile, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) continued touting the proposed ECFA, asking the public to have faith that he would find a way out of Taiwan’s economic isolation.
Ma said if Taiwan continued to be excluded from other countries’ FTAs, it would run the risk of being isolated economically.
“I will do my best to work for the interest of Taiwan and seek a way out,” he said while promoting the proposed ECFA with Cabinet officials in Tainan County. “Please believe me.”
Ma said Taiwan has signed FTAs with five of its diplomatic allies in Latin America, but the combined trade volume is less than 0.2 percent of the country’s annual total.
“It will be more meaningful if we sign them with our major trading partners,” he said.
China is Taiwan’s largest export market, Ma said, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s total exports. It is followed by Japan, the US and Southeast Asian countries, he said.
However, each of these export markets has been shrinking, he said, mainly because Taiwan could not enjoy lower tariffs since it lacked FTAs with those countries.
Ma criticized underground radio stations for spreading rumors that he would allow the import of more Chinese agricultural products after he was elected president.
Since he took office in May 2008, Ma said he never agreed to allow more Chinese agricultural products into the local market but that instead the government had increased exports of Taiwan’s fruits to China two-fold, fresh vegetables eight-fold and bass four-fold. Among the 1,415 agricultural items allowed in from China, 936 were approved by the former DPP administration, he said.
Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄) dismissed speculation that an ECFA would cause 280,000 farmers to lose their jobs, saying the estimate was made under the premise that the ban on 830 Chinese agricultural products would be lifted.
“If any of those items are allowed to come in on my watch, I will resign,” he said.