Sat, Jan 23, 2010 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: ECFA will help Taiwan catch up with Asia: Ma

President Ma Ying-jeou spoke with several ‘Taipei Times’ reporters in an interview at the Presidential Office on Thursday, expounding on his government’s plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China. He tried to allay public qualms over the proposed pact, while emphasizing that an ECFA would be a crucial lever that would allow Taiwan to sign free-trade agreements with other countries

President Ma Ying-jeou gestures as he talks with Taipei Times reporters at the Presidential Office on Thursday.

PHOTO: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

Taipei Times: Mr. President, when you first assumed the presidency, you termed yourself a “people’s president” (全民總統). Do you still consider yourself a “people’s president” now that you double as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman? Especially in light of what happened recently on the legislative floor [the push to pass an amendment to the Local Government Act (地方制度法)], there has been criticism that you’ve now dragged in partisan interests and become more of a “pan-blues’ president.

Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九): I am still a people’s president. The decisions I make represent the Republic of China, and the plans I promote are based on the principle that they are beneficial to the country and the people, and not just for the KMT or a political party. Take the amendment to the Local Government Act as an example. I have no control over who wins the special municipality elections. I want to give the country a stronger competitive edge by remapping the districts. I am doing this for the country and the people, not for a party.

TT: What about the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA)? You said Taiwan would benefit by signing an ECFA with China. Will you include different voices from the opposition parties?

Ma: I will, and it is because of the opposition parties’ opinions that we made some changes in how we negotiate and how we communicate with the public. We will present a report to the legislature after holding formal negotiations with mainland China, and will also explain the matter to the public, so that people will understand what ECFA is.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Mainland Affairs Council toured the country last year to explain the ECFA to the public and helped people from all walks of life know what kind of problems they would encounter. For example, the petrochemical industry wants us to sign an ECFA as soon as possible, so that it can enjoy export tariff cuts.

As to whether the textile industry should be included in the “early harvest” list, I visited King Fu-lung Corporation in Shetou (社頭), which produces silk socks for the famous Huagui brand. The company’s president said the industry was willing to be on the list. I told him that if we put the industry on the list, they will receive a reduction in export tariffs, but the imports from China will also receive tariff cuts. Textile companies said they should be able to handle the situation.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs also discussed the issue with the towel and bedding industries, and they do not want to be on the early harvest list. We will either exclude them from the list or extend the grace period. The government will communicate with those who will be affected by an ECFA so that people will have a better understanding of what they need to plan for in the future.

TT: You said the towel and bedding companies could be excluded from the early harvest list, but an ECFA is, after all, a mere transitional mechanism, and in the end, the country will still have to open for tariff concessions and more liberal trade. How will the government provide the needed assistance and help with industry transformation?

Ma: There are several ways to do it, including giving short-term assistance or helping businesses to transform themselves and increase their competitiveness. In the process of industrial development, Taiwan went from exporting agricultural and textile products to exporting electronics. Some industries must experience transformation in the process; this is a normal situation in the course of industrial development.

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