Officials deny ECFA is a threat

BACKDOOR: The KMT denied DPP claims that revisions to labor laws and a proposed ECFA would threaten the jobs of 3.21 million professionals and white-collar workers

By Vincent Y. Chao and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Wed, Apr 07, 2010 - Page 1

Government officials yesterday rebutted opposition claims that a planned economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) under negotiation with China would threaten Taiwan's 3.21 million although they did not promise that white-collar workers would be included in the list of restrictions in the deal.

A recent study by the DPP's policy research and coordinating committee estimated that up to 3.2 million Taiwanese white-〝collar workers could be affected by an influx of cheaper goods from China because of the ECFA and if Chinese workers were allowed to apply for professional licenses in Taiwan.

The healthcare industry, which includes the traditional Chinese medicine sector, would be among the most affected because of an influx of cheaper Chinese labor impacting about 277,070 healthcare professionals, the study said.

The study says that "if Ma's administration continues to open up the Taiwanese service sector and recognize Chinese educational certificates, the amount of Chinese people coming to Taiwan and applying for professional certification will greatly increase," because of factors including a common language and Taiwan's higher wages.

These fears are expected to become a subject of debate in the legislature this week as a revision to the Statute Governing the Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) proposed by DPP lawmakers aims to prohibit Chinese educational certification from being used in public service, professional and other expert exams.

Dismissing the study, Bureau of Foreign Trade Director-General Huang Chih-peng (黃志鵬) yesterday said: "It is astonishing to say that [3.21 million] workers will be affected."

Huang reiterated the promise that an "ECFA would not alter the current prohibition on Chinese workers," but admitted that the ban did not extend to white-collar workers, meaning individuals holding professional licenses.

"We will stick with the current rules that prohibit [Chinese] attorneys, accountants, architects and doctors from practicing in Taiwan," Huang said.

The Chinese have reportedly demanded that an ECFA include provisions that allow an inflow of individuals who have obtained such professional licenses.

Huang said the matter was contingent on whether Taiwan changes its policies to recognize Chinese diplomas and to allow Chinese citizens to take Taiwan's national exams.

Saying that the changes would not negatively affect the local labor market as they were aimed at facilitating short-term business travel by Chinese businesspeople, Huang added that they were necessary after the government moved to allow more Chinese investment.

In related developments, the DPP yesterday said a move by the government to loosen work restrictions on high-level managerial staff from China will drastically impact the nation's white collar workforce.

Two regulations revised last Friday by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) will allow Chinese professionals working for multinational corporations to increase their duration of stay in Taiwan from one to three years.

The revisions also mean that more Chinese service industry professionals will be allowed in the nation. Meanwhile under the new regulations, smaller companies will also be able to send in more Chinese workers while the max annual threshold for sponsored Chinese visits will be doubled.

The DPP expressed concerns that the proposals were a "backdoor" which could undermine an earlier pledge made by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that Taiwan's borders would remain closed to Chinese workers as part of an ECFA.

DPP Spokesperson Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said that while it was unlikely that any mention of the Chinese workers would appear on the final agreement text, the government would try and use other methods of ensuring that Taiwan's borders were opened such as the MOI revisions.

"It's becoming more and more clear to us that signing an ECFA will allow even more Chinese industries to come to Taiwan and bring along their own workers. This will have serious repercussions on Taiwan's labor market," Lin said.

DPP lawmakers yesterday also panned the move, saying the government needed to place more stringent controls on visits by Chinese professionals to ensure they do not displace Taiwanese jobs.

While officials from the Bureau of Foreign Trade acknowledged the regulations on Chinese workers would be loosened, they stressed the government would continue to bar workers from certain service professions from coming into the country.

"We will open up [our borders] a bit to the operators of [Chinese] investment firms, high-level managerial staff and experts," said Huang. "But what we are not doing is opening up so Chinese white-collar workers can come to Taiwan. Even if they are here for investment, their numbers will be strictly controlled."

Despite the government assurances, some DPP lawmakers however are saying that the relaxed regulations could mean that multinational corporations have less of a need to hire Taiwanese workers.

According to figures provided by the DPP caucus, visits to Taiwan by Chinese professionals have already doubled from 71,000 trips in 2008 to 155,000 in 2009. DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said the figures could further increase to 400,000 visits this year if an ECFA is signed.