The government yesterday defined the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed with China as a quasi-treaty and said the legislature could ratify or reject it as a package, but could not amend its contents article by article.
Executive Yuan Spokesman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) made the remarks at a press conference following a Cabinet meeting yesterday that approved the ECFA and an agreement on Intellectual Property Rights protection (IPR) that was also signed with China on Tuesday.
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who had previously said the ECFA was “more like a treaty,” was at odds with Legislative Speaker Wang Jyn-ping (王金平), who said the ECFA was an agreement and not a quasi-treaty, yesterday modified his stance on the matter, saying the ECFA was “not a kind of treaty,” but that its “contents, appearance and the nature of the ECFA makes it look similar to a treaty.”
Chiang did not cite stipulations in the Constitution, legislation, or rules when pressed by media on what basis the government defined the ECFA as a quasi-treaty.
“There are precedents for the ECFA. [For one], it deals with foreign affairs,” Chiang said.
Under the Constitution, the Executive Yuan is required to refer a treaty to the legislature for deliberation before it takes effect.
There is no legislation governing procedures for reviewing a treaty in the legislature, but per precedent, lawmakers can ratify or reject a treaty as a package after holding a question-and-answer session with officials on the deal.
Despite saying the ECFA was not a treaty, Wu said the legislature can only vote to ratify or reject the ECFA and not review it article by article.
The government referred the ECFA and the IPR protection agreement to the legislature in accordance with Paragraph 2 of Article 5 in the Act Governing the Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例), Chiang said.
The Cabinet meeting yesterday also approved amendments to four laws — the Patent Act (專利法), the Customs Import Tariff Act (海關進口稅則), the Plant Variety and Plant Seed Act (植物品種及種苗法) and the Trademark Act (商標法) — and referred them to the legislature for review to bring rules in line with the ECFA and the IPR agreement.
At a separate setting yesterday, Wang said it would be “very difficult” for the ECFA to clear the legislative floor.
The legislature is expected to call a provisional session on Monday at the earliest to screen and finalize the format in which the ECFA will be reviewed.
Wang said that even though the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) holds a majority in the legislature, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could still resort to procedural strategy to block the agreement from being put to a vote.
“Even if the KMT owns a majority of seats, it cannot get whatever it wants all the time,” Wang said.
Wang also dismissed reports that he disagreed with the president on the nature of the ECFA, despite saying on Wednesday that the ECFA is an agreement, not a quasi-treaty as defined by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Wang said the legislature had the right to determine the form of the ECFA review, adding that it must not violate the Constitution or any laws when reviewing the pact.
He declined to comment about the DPP caucus plan to propose a bill regulating cross-strait deals and the establishment of a special committee to scrutinize the implementation of the ECFA.
“The Legislative Yuan follows a collegiate system. Lawmakers will deliberate if any legislator launches a proposal. It is inappropriate for me to express my opinions now,” Wang said.
Nevertheless, on several occasions in 2008, Wang had urged the government to submit a similar draft act to allow the legislature to play a more active role in terms of supervision of cross-strait deals.
He also wanted the legislature to establish a task force to be involved in cross-strait negotiation, but the KMT government had reservations about the practice, fearing that the draft act would expand the legislature’s authority.
KMT caucus secretary-general Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) supported Ma and the Executive Yuan’s definition of the ECFA.
Lin said the ECFA is a free-trade agreement (FTA) between two economic entities under the WTO and thus is similar to a treaty between two states.
KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said the legislature should handle the ECFA as an economic treaty because relations between Taiwan and China are “special.”
The DPP said the ECFA, signed by the head of the Straits Exchange Foundation, was not signed by the president or foreign minister as was the case in FTAs signed by Taiwan, therefore the ECFA should not be called a treaty.
That means lawmakers have the right to debate and vote on each article, instead of simply holding a one-time vote on the entire agreement, the DPP said after senior party officials met with DPP lawmakers to discuss how to deal with the provisional legislative session.
The DPP also accused the government of failing to disclose enough details on the negotiating process.
“It is essential that the legislature conduct a substantive review of the ECFA,” DPP spokesperson Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said.
“DPP lawmakers will continue to attempt to screen the ECFA professionally and with a firm standpoint,” DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said at a campaign stop in Taipei County yesterday.
She said the DPP would push for the passage of a bill normalizing the negotiation process between Taiwan and China, ask for the creation of a screening team focused on gathering information on the ECFA in the legislature and create a team comprised of legislators to monitor cross-strait interactions.
The party would also create a “united operations center” to coordinate actions by DPP lawmakers during the special session, she said.
She also rejected the government’s stance that other countries do not conduct a clause-by-clause review of negotiated FTAs, saying that most international agreements were only negotiated after having acquired the approval of the legislature, which was not the case for Taiwan.
If the government were unable to resolve the public divide in opinions over the agreement through a substantive review by the legislature, Tsai Chi-chang said the DPP would not rule out holding a referendum if it regained power in 2012.
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