Thu, Mar 25, 2010 - Page 3 News List

No timetable for ECFA to become FTA

A DECADE? How long it would take for an ECFA to be turned into a free-trade pact would depend on the contents and how WTO members view the deal, Lin Yi-fu said

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Interim deals such as the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China are not subject to WTO rules and need not necessarily lead to a free-trade agreement (FTA) within a set period of time, Taiwan’s permanent representative to the WTO Lin Yi-fu (林義夫) said yesterday.

Lin made the remarks while addressing lawmakers at the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, where the ECFA took center stage.

Lin said WTO rules do not set a timetable for interim deals to enter into comprehensive trade liberation under FTAs, which cover between 90 percent and 95 percent of trade in goods, services and investment.

“Generally, however, that period is about 10 years,” he said.

In accordance with Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and Article 5 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, WTO members are allowed to form regional trade agreements (RTAs) under which tariffs on virtually all trade by signatories is eliminated, but not extended to non-FTA signatories, as global trade talks are deadlocked.

“A cross-strait ECFA is one of the formalities that could lead to a FTA, but how long the transition period will be depends on the contents of an ECFA and how other WTO members view the deal,” Lin said.

Taiwan has yet to report information about the proposed ECFA to the WTO because the ECFA “is still being negotiated,” Lin said.

Once an ECFA is signed, the contents of the trade pact would be communicated to the WTO committee on regional trade agreements, as required by WTO rules, Lin said.

“Nevertheless, many WTO members have expressed support [for an ECFA] and would be happy to see it happen … An ECFA would significantly reduce obstacles to the signing of a FTA with [Taiwan’s] other trade partners,” he said.

During the session, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers cast doubt on a government promise that an ECFA would not open Taiwan to more agricultural products from China or allow the entry of Chinese laborers.

The DPP lawmakers asked whether such promises would become invalid once an ECFA turns into an FTA.

Questions regarding the country’s sovereignty, such as the title under which Taiwan would sign an ECFA with China and whether the trade deal would be defined by the WTO as an international deal or an internal Chinese agreement, were also expressed.

Lin and Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Liang Kuo-hsin (梁國新) did not give definitive replies.

Lin also declined to comment on whether an ECFA should be put to a referendum, adding that of the 271 RTAs in force today, only one was decided via a plebiscite — a 2007 referendum to approve or reject Costa Rica’s FTA with Central America, the Dominican Republic and the US, known as the DR-CAFTA.

Lin later told reporters that Taiwan’s situation differed from that of Costa Rica, where the DR-CAFTA was put to a popular vote after the treaty failed to clear Congress.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers called on the officials to reassure the public by confirming that an ECFA would not further open the Taiwanese market to Chinese agricultural products.

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