Little was accomplished after Taipei and Beijing concluded the second round of official negotiations on a cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) in Dasi (大溪), Taoyuan County, early yesterday.
It was expected that the talks would last two full days and end yesterday evening, but the discussions on the final day took only half a day. Negotiations focused on the “early harvest” items proposed for traded goods and services, as well as regulations on the labeling of product origin and the text of a proposed ECFA.
The “early harvest” list refers to a list of goods and services that will be subject to immediate tariff concessions or exemptions, which are expected to form the backbone of the proposed deal.
Tang Wei (唐煒), head of the Department of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau under China’s Ministry of Commerce, refused to reveal the “early harvest” items proposed by each side after the three-hour meeting that concluded the negotiations.
“It’s hard for me to say,” he said. “We didn’t come to an agreement ... We are still negotiating.”
Tang was also evasive about the next round of negotiations, saying it would be up to the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), to arrange.
Lee Li-jane (李麗珍), director of the Mainland Affairs Council’s Department of Economic Affairs, said it was meaningless to speculate how many rounds of negotiations would be needed before the planned accord is signed.
“Since our goal for signing the agreement is May or June, we will do our best to finish all the negotiations before that,” she said.
Urging Taiwanese media to refer to the negotiations as “expert-level discussions,” Tang said both sides “agreed on many things” and that there was a “new development.”
On the “early harvest” list, Tang said both sides agreed to base negotiations on the principle of “fast, easy and less” — focusing on industries that are urgent, necessary and of common concern.
Beijing would take into consideration the difference in scope between Taiwan and China’s economy and business competitiveness, he said, while adding that Taipei should realize that China also has weaker businesses that require protection, which actually outnumber their Taiwanese counterparts.
Tang said the Chinese delegation fully understood the concerns of Taiwanese farmers and did not request that Taipei import more Chinese agricultural products.
Both sides agreed on the mechanism and timetable for labeling of product origin, but neither side offered any details.
Asked whether China did not agree to add wording such as “trade normalization” in the text of the agreement, Tang said the agreement would not include “liberalization” because bilateral trade had yet to be liberalized.
Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Liang Kuo-hsin (梁國新) said the two sides achieved wide consensus during the “official negotiations,” but added that neither side revealed their “early harvest” lists at the negotiation table.
“We are starting to see a clearer picture,” he said. “Until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed.”
To sum up the negotiations, Liang said: “We got what they wanted and safeguarded what we wanted to protect.”
Bureau of Foreign Trade Director-General Huang Chih-peng (黃志鵬), the head of the Taiwanese delegation, said the proposed ECFA would not touch on imports of more Chinese workers because it was the Taiwanese government’s policy and promise.