Tue, Feb 02, 2010 - Page 3 News List

ECFA no threat to farms: official

FEARS, HOPESAmid fears that 300,000 farmers could be out of work after an ECFA is signed, a MAC official said he ‘hoped’ Beijing would not block Taipei’s plans to ink FTAs

By Flora Wang and Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Vice Minister of Agriculture Hu Sing-hwa (胡興華) yesterday denied media reports that almost 300,000 Taiwanese farmers would lose their jobs if Taiwan signed an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.

“The ECFA does not concern agricultural issues,” Hu told a press conference at the Government Information Office.

“We will not include agriculture in the negotiations after the ECFA is signed unless the negotiations will benefit local farmers,” he said.

Hu called the conference in response to a report published by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) on Sunday that cited National Chung Hsing University honorary professor Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏) as saying that more than 289,000 farmers could become jobless if the government relaxed restrictions on Chinese agricultural products.

“The government should enshrine the ban on the 830 Chinese agricultural products in an ECFA. Otherwise, the government should refuse to sign the pact,” the story quoted National Taiwan University professor of agricultural economics Woo Rhung-jieh (吳榮杰) as saying.

Taiwan and China began the first round of talks on the proposed ECFA last week. A report commissioned by China’s Ministry of Commerce urged Taiwan to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural products.

Members of the Chinese negotiating team were quoted last Tuesday as saying that Taiwanese import controls on agricultural and industrial goods should be resolved to “normalize” the cross-strait economic relationship.

Hu described Wu’s remark as “hypothetical” and “groundless,” adding that the government would determine whether to relax the ban in line with public opinion.

Hu said no Taiwanese farmers would lose their jobs as a result of an ECFA because the Council of Agriculture (COA) would insist on retaining the ban.

The council emphasized that ­Taiwan’s negotiating team had already made that position “very clear” to its Chinese counterparts. The position is “non-negotiable,” officials said, adding that the Chinese demands were made unilaterally and went against Taiwan’s position.

To date, import controls for 1,415 classifications of agricultural products have already been removed, all before 2008: 479 controls were lifted after negotiations between 1988 and 2000, with an additional 936 when Taiwan joined the WTO, the COA said.

Meanwhile, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Chairman Kao Charng (高長) said in a radio interview on Sunday that he hoped China wouldn’t continue to block Taiwanese efforts to sign free-trade agreements (FTA) with other countries after an ECFA is signed.

“We hope China can understand that it is very important for Taiwan to develop trade and economic ties with other countries,” Kao said.

Whether China will drop its previous attitude of blocking Taiwan from signing FTAs with other countries after an ECFA is signed has been a topic of much debate.

Kao said it was difficult to believe speculation that China would intervene in efforts by Taiwan to sign FTAs with other countries, adding that signing FTAs with major trade partners under the WTO framework was not a political issue.

If China imposed economic sanctions — such as stopping imports of raw materials or semi-finished products from Taiwan for political or non-economic purposes — it would also have a negative impact on China’s economy, Kao said.

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