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

We have learned a lot from the US beef issue experience. In other words, before putting the ECFA agenda to the Legislative Yuan, we think it would be better to let the public know how they will benefit or suffer under such an agreement. And we will try to help those who could suffer from the pact.

TT: In numerous speeches you’ve often spoken of “listening to the people’s voice and letting the people be the boss.” Given that, will you reconsider holding a referendum to approve the signing of an ECFA, since a referendum is a way to directly reflect public opinion, as opposed to through the legislature, which is indirect democracy, especially in the wake of the ruckus over the amendment to the Local Government Act. That uproar suggested that KMT lawmakers were merely supporting the party’s decision instead of conveying the opinions of the voters in their districts.

Ma: We have enacted a lot of laws and pushed for the signing of agreements with other countries by winning the approval of the Legislative Yuan.

Referendums are a good approach and are a form of direct democracy, but they cost too much. And there are limitations. Not all government policy can be formed this way. As long as we can have good communications with the pubic and have sufficient discussion with legislators, I think this is normal and a way to follow most other democratic countries, which receive the approval of their congresses to ink pacts.

Costa Rica is an exception because its congress has collapsed. Joining the European Common Market, or adopting the euro are different things and will have a bigger influence on people’s lives so they [European nations] held referendums to make the decision.

To solicit support from the public, we are sending government officials around the nation, including remote areas, to promote the ECFA. We are making an extra effort to explain clearly to those people who may suffer from the trade agreement about the possible impact. I think what we are doing should meet the requirements of a democratic country.

Most countries around the world are adopting the same approach when it comes to signing similar agreements.

TT: If an ECFA is signed, will both sides sign it under their status as WTO members? Will Taiwan register the signing of the ECFA with the WTO?

Ma: Yes. Only under the WTO framework can we offer tariff reductions just to mainland China. Usually such tariff cuts would have to apply to other countries as well. The signing of an ECFA will certainly meet the essence of the WTO.

TT: Does Taiwan have any countermeasures against the possible cancellation of the proposed ECFA by China, which could use it as a tactic to obstruct Taiwan’s efforts to enter into free-trade agreements with other countries?

Ma: This is merely an assumption. This also leads back to my previous assertion that we should develop Taiwan’s foreign affairs and its relations with mainland China at the same time. We hope to make it a positive cause-and-effect. If Taiwan is isolated on the international stage, it will be difficult to achieve further progress in cross-strait ties. Taiwanese will feel they are losing their dignity since they cannot have a say in national affairs. This will harm cross-strait relations.

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