Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅) criticized the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) yesterday for passing the buck on a controversial trade pact plan with China.
Lee’s comments came after the ministry’s announcement on Monday that hearings on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China would be organized by the Chinese National Federation of Industries (CNFI) and the Chung-Hua Institute for Economic Research.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on March 5 that he hoped negotiations on such a pact would take place in the third round of talks between Taiwan and China, which are expected to be held in the first half of this year.
“Is it so difficult for the ministry to communicate with the public on this issue? Why is the ministry using the CNFI as a shield to hide from the public?” Lee said.
The DPP would like to take part in the hearings and voice its opinion, but it was opposed to CNFI holding the hearings because the federation represents the voices of businesses and capitalists, Lee said.
Lee said the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has a tradition of favoring big business but neglecting workers’ rights.
Meanwhile, an MOEA official defended the proposed pact at a public hearing hosted by DPP Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安).
The overall benefits of an ECFA will definitely outweigh any negative impact from any potential deal, Bureau of Foreign Trade Director-General Huang Chih-peng (黃志鵬) said.
Representatives from the shoe, leather, silk and towel industries voiced concern over the possible impact of the pact and demanded that the government clearly explain the deal’s content and enact measures to minimize any negative impact.
Describing their concerns and requests as “more than reasonable,” Huang said he would prioritize the interests of Taiwan’s industrial sectors and communicate intensively with every industry that might be harmed by the EFCA deal.
Meanwhile, several academics expressed support for an EFCA yesterday, saying Taiwan would lose competitiveness to South Korea and other rivals if it failed to sign such a pact.
Sophia Shih (史惠慈), a research fellow with Chung-hua Institution for Economic Research, said the pact should be pursued to help Taiwanese firms remain competitive. Otherwise they risked being marginalized on the world’s economic stage, she said.
“It is true China is only part of the global market,” Shih told a seminar on cross-strait commerce. “But it is a market the country cannot afford to ignore.”
She said that China, which accounts for 40 percent of Taiwanese exports, still has relatively high tariffs and Taiwan could seek to remove such trade barriers when negotiating terms for the ECFA.
Shih said that while the best solution would be a free-trade agreement (FTA), an ECFA would be a pragmatic choice if an FTA was untenable in the foreseeable future.
Chen Homin (陳厚銘), chairman of international business department at National Taiwan University, said Taiwan has no alternative for expanding foreign trade.
“The nation has much in common with South Korea in terms of industrial policy and would lose out to it after a trade agreement between the two [South Korea and China] takes effect in a few years,” Chen said. “An ECFA would help avert the scenario. The government should work hard to achieve the goal.”
Chen said many successful multinational corporations had built businesses near their home markets and Taiwan could consider the vast Chinese market its home market in light of the geographic closeness.
He also urged Taiwanese companies to shed the “follower” mentality and develop their own brands.
CIER vice president Liu Bih-jane (劉碧珍) said the country should not resist regional groupings but join the trend when for foreign trade.
“Because the domestic market is small, the nation has to rely on foreign sales to drive the economy,” Liu said. “China provides an opportunity in this regard.”
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