Lawmakers pan MAC for keeping mum over ECFA

CRITICISM: In addition to calls for the MAC to make the agreement with China more transparent, a KMT legislator said changes to the name were confusing

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 - Page 1

Lawmakers across party lines yesterday expressed frustration with the Mainland Affairs Council’s (MAC) reluctance to disclose the content of an economic pact that the government plans to sign with Beijing.

MAC Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) told the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee yesterday that the content of the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) had not been finalized, nor was there a draft.

Lai said the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) was still in the process of soliciting opinions on the proposed agreement.

As soon as the consultation process was completed, the ministry would communicate with the public and industries, she said.

The ministry would make a presentation to the legislature once the evaluation process had been completed, then engage in talks with Beijing, Lai said.

She said the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission was planning to conduct an opinion poll on the issue next week, adding that the MAC would conduct its own surveys.

Harsh criticism from the public and politicians about the planned economic pact before any details have been settled was like “consulting a horoscope before a child is born,” Lai said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) said in response: “It already has a name, so of course people will start consulting horoscopes.”

Lai responded that “even criticism has its worth,” but emphasized that it would make more sense if critics waited until the content of the agreement had been finalized.

Huang urged the MAC to keep the negotiation process transparent and uphold the country’s dignity and sovereignty, saying that the KMT would oppose signing an economic accord that undermines Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Lai told Huang to rest assured that the government would not let the public down in this regard.

Accusing the government of prematurely presenting a half-baked plan, Huang said she was upset and confused about changes to the name of the economic pact.

She proposed that the government use “simple language” to publicize the accord.

Lai said there was a chance that the current title, ECFA, would change again, as the two sides had yet to negotiate on the name.

Huang also criticized the MOEA for canceling a forum that had been scheduled to discuss the economic pact today.

Lai replied that as far as she knew, the forum had been postponed, but she did not know why.

However, the MAC chairwoman said an ECFA would not be on the agenda of the third meeting between Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and his Chinese counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).

This does not mean that an ECFA would definitely not be “a talking point,” she said.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had previously said that the agreement would be discussed on the sidelines of the forthcoming cross-strait talks, scheduled to be held in Beijing in May or June.

KMT Legislator Chi Kuo-tung (紀國棟) also criticized the name change.

Chi questioned the accuracy of the government’s prediction that the accord would boost GDP by 3.3 percentage points, dismissing the forecast as a “joke.”

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩) said the administration committee should hold a closed-door meeting if Lai felt uncomfortable about divulging the contents of the proposed economic agreement.

The committee then turned the meeting into a closed-door session, with none of the committee members voicing opposition to Chiu’s request.

Chiu said earlier that Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) had told the legislature that it would be to the country’s disadvantage if he revealed the contents of the draft ECFA.

Meanwhile, DPP Legislator Yu Tian (余天) proposed abolishing the SEF and allowing the Mainland Affairs Council to engage directly in cross-strait negotiations.

Regarding a demand from the DPP that National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) report to the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee, KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), who chaired yesterday’s meeting, said that since Su’s duties were supervised by the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, he had no power to ask Su to report to the administration committee unless the two bodies held a joint hearing.

Wu said that when the DPP was in power, SEF chiefs never reported to the Internal Administration Committee.

At a separate setting yesterday, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Chairman Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) accused the government of being insincere about listening to public opinion on signing an ECFA.

“[President] Ma Ying-jeou said earlier that signing an ECFA was a ‘set policy,’ and Vice Premier Paul Chiu [邱正雄] repeated it again [on Wednesday],” Huang Kun-huei said.

“Yet they say they want to listen to what the public thinks about the issue. How are we supposed to believe them?” Huang asked.

The MOEA’s decision to postpone today’s forum on the ECFA in the face of plans by the TSU to protest the pact “further proves they’re lying about wanting to listen to public opinion,” he said.

“In fact, it’s not the TSU that will protest the pact, it’s representatives from traditional industries — which will be most deeply impacted by an ECFA — who will protest, since the MOEA only invited large corporations that will benefit from an ECFA to attend the meeting,” he said. “Traditional industries were first to be excluded from the meeting, and then barred from expressing their voices outside — what kind of government is this?”

Huang Kun-huei said it took Taiwan about 10 years of research into the impact of accession and talks with other countries before it joined the WTO.

“Ma cannot rush to sign an ECFA with China, otherwise we will pay a high price for it,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LOA IOK-SIN