The government should shelve the cross-strait service trade agreement that has sparked widespread opposition and push for a more important merchandise trade pact, economist Ma Kai (馬凱) said.
Ma said at a forum in Greater Taichung on Saturday that the government has negotiated the two pacts simultaneously, but that its plan to put the more complex services pact before the merchandise trade pact was flawed.
He said that the priority now should be to continue work on the merchandise trade pact based on the original plan, which foresaw negotiations being completed by June.
That would allow the confrontations over the trade-in-services pact to cool down and prevent it from becoming the focus of society, Ma said.
He said government officials should not continue to insist on getting legislative ratification of the service trade pact before talking about anything else, and he believed Beijing would be happy to see the early completion of the merchandise pact.
Controversy over the service trade pact sparked an unprecedented 24-day occupation of legislature by the Sunflower movement that ended on Thursday.
The services pact still faces an uphill battle after Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) agreed to student demands to pass an oversight bill on cross-strait agreements before reviewing the controversial agreement.
Ma also dismissed the government’s argument that if the service trade pact fails to pass, it will affect Taiwan’s efforts to join two regional trade blocs now being organized — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
He said the authorities need to realize that the merchandise trade pact with China is the main goal at present.
Though questioning the government’s strategy, Ma argued that its goal of further liberalizing the economy was essential to the nation’s economic survival.
Taiwan has resorted to protectionism for five decades, leaving its people fearing liberalization and needing the government’s protection to feel safe and develop.
However, in today’s world, if Taiwan cannot open up and reach out to the world, it will be doomed, Ma said.
He suggested that the government try to gradually get people to realize that there is only one direction, which is opening up, but at the same time reduce the adverse impact of liberalization to a minimum and give the most vulnerable groups as much support as possible.