Little achieved at ECFA negotiations

FAST, EASY, LESS: Delegates reached a consensus on the labeling of product origin, but neither side revealed its product list on the much-anticipated ‘early harvest’ items

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER, IN TAOYUAN

Fri, Apr 02, 2010 - Page 1

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.

The proposed accord would address the protection of intellectual property rights and investment, he said, adding that both sides would also arrange another time to discuss whether to include the financial industry in the “early harvest” list.

During a banquet last night, Tang said both sides resolved many problems over the past two days and that he hoped they were “at the last stage as success is near.”

Outside the talk’s venue yesterday morning, the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP) mobilized about 30 members to voice their support for the trade pact.

Law enforcement authorities deployed at the road leading to Ta Shee Resort, where the meeting was being held, ordered the group to refrain from getting closer to the handful of demonstrators protesting nearby against an ECFA.

The CUPP is a political group established by Chang An-le (張安樂), the former leader of the Bamboo Union gang. He is also known as “White Wolf.”

A man named Chang Chih-min (張志民) was quoted by the Central News Agency as saying that the group initially had no plans of mobilizing people to the venue.

“But after seeing the protest staged by the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] yesterday [Wednesday,] the chief [Chang An-le] wanted us to come over and ­express our support [for an ECFA] so that it doesn’t appear one-sided, with only people who oppose the pact,” he was quoted as saying.

Members of the group staged a protest when police, some clad in riot gear, questioned some of the group members dressed in black.

The move drew opposition from the group, which accused the police of being unfair.

“We are patriotic, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the DPP who bullied you [police] yesterday,” several members told the police.

In response, Shih Chung-chin (施忠進), head of Dasi Precinct’s Criminal Investigation Corps, said they had to question the black-clad members as they had to be accountable to the public.

“We had to do it or the public would criticize the police for not taking precautionary steps to prevent potential clashes or criminal activity,” Shih said, adding that police had to determine whether there were minors in the group.

The group dispersed at about 10am after CUPP spokesman Tang Ching-sheng (唐警生) arrived and led them in chanting slogans in support of an ECFA.

Around noon, Tung Chung-yan (童仲彥), a former political talk show host on Formosa TV who staged a one-man protest at the lobby of Ta Shee Resort, found himself surrounded by police.

Chanting “Taiwan, China are two countries on each side of the Taiwan Strait,” Tung, who is runing for Taipei City councilor in November, introduced himself before he began his protest. Tung was surrounded by the police and media before he was forced into a police car.

At a separate setting, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he “could not guarantee” other countries would want to negotiate a free-trade agreement [FTA] with Taiwan after both sides sign an ECFA.

“But the atmosphere will at least improve,” he said while meeting board members of the Junior Chamber International Taiwan at the Presidential Office yesterday morning.

“As the president of the Republic of China, I have the responsibility to lead a way out for Taiwan,” he said. “Only by opening up can Taiwan become more prosperous. Walling ourselves in will only lead to recession.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JIMMY CHUANG AND STAFF WRITER

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