Ma hopes for ECFA by next year

FACE THE FACTS:The president said that despite opposition, the nation cannot ignore that China is Taiwan’s top trading partner and the No. 3 economy in the world

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mon, May 25, 2009 - Page 1

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday emphasized the importance of an economic pact that his administration intends to sign with Beijing, saying he hoped to see the framework signed no later than next year.

Ma said Taiwan cannot ignore the fact that China is the country*s top trading partner and the world*s third-largest economy. Over the past year, Ma said his administration had made efforts to improve cross-strait relations.

※Now we encounter a great challenge: whether we are going to have a trade agreement with the mainland,§ Ma said in English. ※This government has decided we want to negotiate an economic cooperation framework agreement [ECFA] with the mainland.§

Despite the opposition of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Ma said his administration should continue its efforts, hoping that such an agreement would be signed this year or no later than next year.

Ma made the remarks in Taipei City yesterday morning while addressing participants at an international conference on the future of the WTO.

Ma said the planned pact is necessary because while 40 percent of the country*s exports go to China, there is no comprehensive trade system in place.

Ma said an ECFA would take a long time to complete, but the two sides could work on the items where there is agreement first, citing the example of an economic consensus signed between the 10 members of ASEAN and China.

That agreement was inked in 2002 and will take effect on Jan. 1. Ma said once it goes into effect, it will deal a significant blow to local industries, in particular petrochemicals, auto parts, textiles and machinery, which make up a large portion of the country*s exports.

※So it*s very urgent for Taiwan to negotiate such a framework agreement. We could also have an early harvest mechanism which would deal directly with the issues of custom tariffs, particularly affecting the type of products I just mentioned,§ he said.

The agreement would be a framework, Ma said, and the two sides could deal first with the items where there is agreement, ※put [them] into the early harvest basket and then we could move on.§

※We will work out a plan, a long list of items that we will negotiate with the mainland and figure out which one will be put into the agreement first,§ he said.

Ma said that it was not an easy task because of opposition from the DPP.

※They fear that if we go too close to the mainland, we might risk losing our sovereignty,§ Ma said. ※But we keep telling them that this agreement has nothing to do with sovereignty.§

Nor would the framework be the same as the agreement signed between Beijing and Hong Kong, Ma said, adding that the closer economic partnership arrangement (CEPA) was signed under the ※one country, two systems§ framework which Ma said is 〝totally rejected by Taiwanese.

Ma said the planned pact would be ※just a pure economic agreement.§

He also said that both sides were ready to extend goodwill in this regard, and that he was confident the two sides could ※make a mutually beneficial deal.§

In response, DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said the party questioned whether Ma*s new timetable for the ECFA meant he had already reached a secret deal with China and had to hasten to sign it regardless of strong opposition.

While the ECFA is expected to affect certain Taiwanese industries, the Ma administration wants to sign it without a thorough review, he said.

He said the DPP insisted on holding a referendum on the signing of an ECFA.