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

When two countries sign an FTA, the accord applies the most favored nation treatment to only the contracting parties.

When we entered the WTO, we wanted to piggyback on the multi-lateral trade negotiations and FTAs signed between two countries. However, the Doha talks hit a snag so we are back to square one and have to engage in bilateral negotiations, which are unfavorable to Taiwan.

We wanted to negotiate an FTA with the US, but they have their own problems. Japan and South Korea did not dare to talk with us because they are afraid of the mainland. So we begin with the mainland, hoping to negotiate a mechanism to institutionalize bilateral trade. Once we sign an ECFA with the mainland, we will have more opportunities.

TT: Have any of these countries made any promises?

Ma: None of those countries have diplomatic ties with us. It’s very hard for them to make any promise.

TT: You earlier said our questions seemed to presume that signing an ECFA would be negative to Taiwan. But it seems to many that your presumptions about an ECFA appear overly optimistic. Don’t you think you may be indulging in wishful thinking?

Ma: No. Since I took office [May 2008], cross-strait relations have improved. I said in my inaugural speech that if Taiwan continues to be isolated internally, cross-strait relations would be hard to develop.

In the past, the Chinese Communist Party spared no effort to entice our diplomatic allies, but over the past 20 months our diplomatic relations have remained quite stable.

So when the cross-strait ties are stable, our international space also increases. We finally participated in the WHA after 12 years of trying. The GPA took four years and there have also been concrete achievements in our participation in APEC.

These are not outstanding, but at least we have made some breakthroughs, thanks to the improvement of cross-strait relations. The policy has received recognition from the international community.

Of course, some people who are doubtful may say you are too naive or it’s too risky. But what other strategy can we use? We already know what will happen if we adopt a belligerent approach on the diplomatic front. We secured three new diplomatic allies, but lost nine.

TT: Some people have proposed that when we negotiate an ECFA with Beijing, we ask it to stop obstructing us from signing FTAs with other countries, or demand the ECFA take effect in tandem with FTAs signed with the US or Japan.

Ma: I will convey your opinion to the Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

TT: That’s not our opinion, but reflects the doubts some others have on the planned pact.

Ma: I know. That’s why I said I would let the government agencies deliberate on the proposal.

There may be remedies for diplomatic isolation, but economic seclusion will hurt our muscles and bones. So we must find a way out. That is why most businesses support signing an ECFA, especially foreign investors in Taiwan. You are an English-language newspaper, so you must have read the White Papers released by the American Chamber of Commerce and European Chamber of Commerce. Before 2000, every year they urged the administration to open direct transportation links and liberalize cross-strait trade. We didn’t make them write those White Papers, you know.

TT: These groups obviously had their own interests in mind when they penned their White Papers. During the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] administration, they said direct transportation links would help Taiwan secure a FTA with the US. The two sides now have broader direct transportation links since you took office, but there are still no FTAs.

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