Former diplomat and trade expert Benjamin Lu (魯肇忠) is calling on the Ma administration to clearly explain and reveal all details of a proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China before developing the pact any further with Beijing.
“People in Taiwan are very much concerned about an ECFA, but strangely the government is keeping them in the dark,” he said during an interview in Washington, where he is currently visiting family.
“It is very unusual,” Lu added. “They are not releasing details of their talks with Beijing. They are keeping things secret and that is making people [feel it is] very dubious.”
A specialist in international trade policy, Lu served as deputy director of the Bureau of Foreign Trade in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s he was one of Taiwan’s top diplomats, serving as representative in the UK, the US and in Belgium.
“I certainly don’t believe that the proposed ECFA will provide any opportunity for Taiwan to increase its exports to the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he said. “The reason is that what we can manufacture in Taiwan can be manufactured in mainland China at a much cheaper price. We have no competitive edge at all, even with the concession of a tariff provided by ECFA, if there is any. There is a slight chance for Taiwan to export more tropical fruit to mainland China and some semi-finished products.”
Lu spoke out in the aftermath of a statement from President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) office dismissing criticism from former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and retired US diplomat John Tkacik, who both said they believed an ECFA would undermine Taiwan’s competitiveness.
The statement said that Tkacik had been “misleading” and offered to “explain” the trade pact to Lee, hinting that he had failed to understand it.
Lu, on the other hand, said that he agreed with Tkacik and Lee, and that both men deserved to be treated with respect and have their concerns properly answered.
“As a result of [an] ECFA, a lot of other products, including agricultural products, will be sold from mainland China to Taiwan and that will definitely hurt the domestic economy,” Lu said.
“I am also skeptical that the proposed pact will pave the way to other free-trade agreements. I believe that a certain kind of political maneuver will be exercised to put up obstacles to the enforcement of the pact,” he added.
The only positive point that Lu could see to an ECFA was the protection it might provide to Taiwanese investment in China, but to what extent that protection would be implemented remained to be seen.
“It’s easy talking, but doing is something else,” he said.
Lu added that he “totally agreed” with Tkacik that an ECFA would marginalize the Taiwanese economy.
“I think Ma’s government is pretty stubborn,” he said. “They don’t care about the concerns of the people. We need to have all of the details of the talks. They must not continue to keep them secret.”
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