Signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (EFCA) could make it easier for US officials to push for a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Taiwan and the US, Taiwan’s representative to the US Jason Yuan (袁健生) said at a Foreign and National Defense Committee meeting yesterday.
His remarks, however, sparked criticism from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators, who admonished the US representative and told him to be cautious on what he says about US views on the trade pact because the topic is one of the most contentious issues in Taiwan.
Yuan said US officials had said that Taiwan-US relations, even down to the details of such an FTA, were “more or less politically related.”
“If the [cross-strait] ambiance is good, it would be easier to push for an FTA between Taiwan and the US. Therefore, they are looking forward to seeing if signing an ECFA will be successful. If so, it means that there is a consensus on trade relations across the strait. It would then be easier for them to push a [Taiwan-US] FTA,” Yuan said.
Yuan went on to stress that “more than one” US official, not merely think tank scholars, had expressed similar views.
DPP Legislator William Lai (賴清德) asked Yuan to disclose the names and ranks of the US officials, as well as details of the conversations he mentioned, saying such statements could strongly sway public opinion on the issue.
“If signing an ECFA with Beijing will increase Taiwan’s chances of signing an FTA with US, then this is a big deal and could influence public opinion,” Lai said, asking that Yuan disclose the information so the public can decide whether to trust him or not.
Yuan said he could not give the names, but suggested that Lai use his capacity as a lawmaker to ask American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt for his position on the matter.
Last month, when Burghardt was asked if signing an ECFA would help Taiwan in its bid to sign an FTA with the US at a meeting with reporters in Taipei, he declined to give a direct answer and instead said: “I would just say that the view of the US is that WTO members have the right to negotiate free trade agreements with each other. If some countries have different views on that, that’s their view, but that would be the view of the US.”
In an address in January to the San Francisco Taiwan Chamber of Commerce, Burghardt said that the expansion of cross-strait economic ties was also bolstering the value of the US’ economic partnership with Taiwan. As Taiwan and China advance their efforts to create trade agreements, “such efforts have the strong potential to mutually reinforce and promote the parallel US-Taiwan work of building more and more blocks in our strong and ever more open economic relationship,” Burghardt said.
Burghardt was mentioned again during the meeting when Yuan said the AIT chairman had specifically named the Taipei Times as misquoting him several times in the past.
He made the remarks when KMT Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) asked why Burghardt insisted on speaking in front of the cameras during his meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) last month and if he had any issue with any particular media outlet.
“Yes, he has specifically mentioned the Taipei Times as misquoting him a few times and he felt he needed to clarify his stance,” Yuan said.