The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) should ask Beijing to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) under the framework of the WTO, rather than seeking to ink an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) under the “one China” principle, participants at an economic forum said yesterday.
Former national policy adviser Huang Tien-lin (黃天麟) said that while Ma claimed the proposed pact was economic in nature, it also concerned politics. The administration is aggressively pushing for an ECFA because it knows Beijing is reluctant to sign an FTA with Taiwan, he said.
While Ma has said signing the planned accord is a top priority, Huang argued that it was a plot by Beijing to suppress other countries from signing FTAs with Taiwan, thereby making it Taiwan’s only hope.
Huang proposed that the administration make efforts to sign FTAs with Japan, the US and other countries before inking an economic pact with Beijing.
“I know it’s not an easy job, but we should ask ourselves this question: ‘Do we want to be independent or become a province of China?’” he said.
Huang made the remarks during a panel discussion organized by Taiwan Advocates yesterday morning in Taipei. The purpose was to urge the administration to conduct an impact assessment study on the risks posed by the planned pact, including a possible rise in unemployment and increased reliance on China. The forum also called on the administration to be open about the agreement’s impact and to hold a referendum on it.
Former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Wang To-fa (王塗發), a professor at National Taipei University (NTU), said the administration “shot an arrow before it set the target” because it made up its mind on the ECFA before it asked the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research to conduct an evaluation.
Wang also questioned the accuracy of the institution’s report, saying that it was unrealistic. The report not only steered clear of an ECFA’s negative impact on traditional industries and small and medium-size businesses, but also failed to address the repercussions on personal incomes.
While exports to China are estimated to increase, Wang said it was likely to crowd out those to the US, Japan, the EU and ASEAN, making Taiwan more dependent on China.
The goal of the ECFA was similar to that of the “one China” market concept proposed by Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) and the closer economic partnership arrangement (CEPA) signed between China and Hong Kong, Wang said, adding that the economic integration of China and Taiwan was a step toward political unification.
Kenneth Lin (林向愷), an economics professor at NTU, also voiced concern over the economic integration, saying the smaller economy would likely be damaged.
Criticizing the institution for offering political services to the administration, Lin said the economic models in the report were not convincing. The report gauged the impact on exports but failed to assess the effect on imports, Lin said.
Lin argued that an ECFA would drive Taiwanese businesses to invest in China and ASEAN where their products would enjoy no tariffs, worsening the local unemployment rate. He called on the administration to let the people decide on the proposed agreement.
“An ECFA is like plans for a building. You don’t know what it’s going to look like, but you have a rough idea from the blueprint,” he said. “But here the company not only has a bad reputation, but also refuses to show us the blueprint.”