Systematic research and policy formulation on critical issues such as free-trade agreements (FTA) are important for Taiwan and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), according to DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴).
“We talk about [signing] FTAs all the time, but the first question we have to ask is why we need them and whether we are prepared to deal with the impact of the free trade system,” Hsiao said in a recent interview with the Taipei Times.
Not only President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has pledged to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within eight years, and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have failed to address the issue, she said, but the DPP has also been guilty of not really addressing the issue.
Hsiao, one of the DPP’s youngest lawmakers, said she has consistently supported free trade and international economic integration because of her familiarity with international affairs, but her thinking has changed since she started spending more time in her constituency of Hualien, which thrives on agriculture and tourism.
“The agricultural sector means more to Taiwan than just farm produce. It is also a lifestyle, a sector that touches on many people’s lives and is closely related to people’s environmental awareness,” she said.
The EU’s approach to the issue could serve a good example for Taiwan because the bloc subsidizes its farmers in a variety of ways and has a roadmap to transform traditional agriculture through the development of ecotourism, community farming and green farming, Hsiao said.
Taiwan needed to change its practice of offering price subsidies, which are prohibited under WTO rules, and income subsidies currently implemented in the form of compensation to old farmers, she added.
However, trade strategy is just part of a wide range of issues that politicians and political parties needed to focus on after “wasting too much time on meaningless arguments and pointless rhetoric,” Hsiao said.
On Taiwan-US relations, Hsiao, who was in charge of international affairs for the presidential campaign of former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), said it was unfortunate that the US chose the KMT over the DPP during the election.
That incident and the US beef dispute were obvious factors in the souring of relations between the party and the US and many DPP members were angry at the US “taking sides,” she said.
However, that would only impact short-term relations rather than long-term cooperation, she added.
The US will always be Taiwan’s most important strategic partner in the areas of security, trade and culture and Taiwan would always be a “pro-US country,” Hsiao said.