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

Ma: That’s because we just resumed the talks. It will take some time.

As for the ECFA, the two sides completed their individual studies last year and a joint study was just made public (on Wednesday). The conclusion is that the ECFA will benefit both sides. It will boost Taiwan’s GDP by 1.6 percent to 1.7 percent and increase employment by some 200,000 people. The negotiations will take time.

It took Singapore and the US three years to negotiate an FTA and about 10 years for ASEAN countries and mainland China.

TT: Given that, why the rush to launch official negotiations on an ECFA with China this month and to sign the pact in May?

Ma: Because we are already falling behind. If we don’t catch up now, we won’t be able to catch up in the future because we are already 10 years late.

TT: It is a common understanding that signing an ECFA will deepen Taiwan’s economic reliance on China as exports to China, which are already massive, will increase as a result. And we all know the risk of putting all our eggs in one basket. How will your administration manage this risk?

Ma: Exports to mainland China fell slightly recently, from making up more than 40 percent of Taiwan’s overall exports in the past few years. Taiwan, however, is fast losing its share of the Chinese market to its competitors because they have made more of an effort.

Besides, we did not forget to diversify into other export markets. The Taiwan External Trade Development Council [TAITRA] is expanding our business in India and other countries.

Aside from diversifying export destinations, our approach is to encourage local firms to reduce their risk by broadening their product lines and focusing more on their own-brand business.

But, as mainland China is our biggest trading rival and trading partner, we have to formulate certain regulations for both sides to follow. This mechanism, if set up, will help safeguard the interests of Taiwanese companies with operations in mainland China.

In addition, we will not limit the ECFA talks just to relaxing imports. We will talk about opening the service sector, protecting local investors and intellectual property rights [IPR]. A lot of Taiwanese have had their IPRs infringed by Chinese. They are unable to seek legal protection because of the absence of related regulations.

TT: The US beef import protocol triggered massive controversy and raised serious concerns about the negotiating skills of government officials — and that was a negotiation with a democratic country. Do you have the confidence that Taiwan’s interests will be fully safeguarded during the ECFA talks, which are with an authoritarian regime?

Ma: That is a good question, but the protocol on the liberalization of imports of US beef products into Taiwan is different from an ECFA. A protocol can be reached between two sides’ administrations. But, the signing of an ECFA needs the approval of the Legislative Yuan because the pact will require changing existing rules, especially in relation to the reduction of tariffs. This why we are trying to disclose to the pubic just how the talks will proceed. We want to make the whole procedure transparent and allow the public to understand this pact.

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