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

The government will spare no efforts to reduce the damage to local companies. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is planning on appropriating a NT$95 billion [US$2.9 billion] budget over 10 years to help local businesses. Why do we spend so much money and why don’t we just stay where we are? Because we will fall behind if we maintain the status quo.

We have already fallen behind in the process of regional economic integration among Asian countries and things will worsen if we don’t change the situation. The country has suffered a decline in export orders in our major markets, including the US, Europe, South Korea, mainland China and ASEAN, and I am very concerned about the situation.

We cannot count on the ECFA to change everything, but it is a beginning, and hopefully our export orders will increase soon.

TT: Mr. President, you just mentioned that signing an ECFA is just the beginning. Can you tell us exactly where it will eventually lead Taiwan? Is it an interim agreement to a free-trade area? If so, then in accordance with the WTO, an open market for free trade and labor needs be set up within a 10-year time period. Wouldn’t that then contradict your promises to ban the import of more agricultural products and workers from China and more toward some kind of "one China market?"

Ma: First, we have to ask ourselves this question: Can we afford not to sign an ECFA? Ten years ago, there were only three FTAs [free-trade agreements] in Asia, but the number jumped to 58 last year. The only two countries in Asia that do not have FTAs [with other Asian nations] are Taiwan and North Korea.

Taiwan has signed FTAs with five of its diplomatic allies in Central America. Although they have increased bilateral trade, the amount of the increase has been small.

So when we sign FTAs, we can do it with our major trading partners, such as mainland China, Japan, the US, ASEAN countries, the European Union, South Korea and Singapore.

However, we have encountered various obstacles over the past years. We launched FTA negotiations with Singapore about 10 years ago, but many factors made the attempt unsuccessful.

TT: What factors? Would you say China was the main factor?

Ma: That’s correct. And because of this, we want to talk with mainland China first.

TT: China has never promised that we could sign FTAs with other countries after we ink the ECFA with it.

Ma: Their position in the past was against it and we know it. But we cannot stop developing our relationships with other countries simply because the Chinese Communists are against it.

We want to participate in UN activities, and we still have to make an effort despite the Chinese Communists’ opposition. Our efforts have paid off. We managed to participate in the World Health Assembly [WHA] and join the Government Procurement Agreement [GPA]. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Mainland China has signed more than 10 FTAs. Once we ink an ECFA with the mainland, ASEAN countries will not reject the idea of talking with us.

TT: The thing is, none of these countries has made such a promise. Don’t you think you are being overly optimistic?

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