Mon, Apr 14, 2014 - Page 3 News List

SUNFLOWER SIEGE AFTERMATH: INTERVIEW: Negative effects drive opposition to service trade pact

Amid public concern over the controversial cross-strait service trade agreement, Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement convener Lai Chung-chiang said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) reporter Cheng Chi-fang on March 14 that President Ma Ying-jeou could reap catastrophic consequences if he continued to allow no room for changes to what many have described as a ‘backroom deal.’

Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement convener Lai Chung-chiang gestures during an interview in Taipei on March 14.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): Several civic groups, including the Democratic Front, have repeatedly raised concerns about the cross-strait agreement since it was signed on June 21 last year. Can you tell us why?

Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強): We have three major concerns about the pact. The first one is its potential impact on people’s livelihood-oriented industries — such as laundry, cleaning, transportation, dining, beauty and wholesale — as well as on the right of employees in these industries to work.

The [President] Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)] administration’s typical response to such concerns is that the cross-strait agreement only opens the nation’s door to Chinese business entrepreneurs and their high-ranking employees and therefore has no bearing on ordinary Taiwanese workers. The administration is apparently thinking of the impact on large-scale manufacturers, rather than on owners of small businesses.

Sure, it would only affect [Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) chairman and chief executive] Morris Chang [張忠謀] and a few managerial-level employees if Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co were to be taken over by a Chinese person. The problem is that most companies in Taiwan’s service sector do not have [the same size and operating scale as TSMC].

On average, a service-related business in Taiwan has about four employees and the vast majority of such companies are micro-businesses whose owners are self-employed.

Take the beauty and hair industry as an example. The Ministry of Economic Affairs said that Chinese-funded beauty salons could help create job opportunities for Taiwanese workers, but according to statistics compiled by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, about 20,000 of the nation’s more than 60,000 hair and beauty salon workers are either self-employed or unpaid family members.

If Chinese businesspeople are allowed to take over such micro-businesses, it could prompt a massive wave of unemployment.

I recently ran into a middle-aged woman who started a small food business after the textile factory where she had worked for years suddenly shut down. The service industry has long been a “harbor of refuge” for manufacturing workers who lose their jobs due to industrial restructuring. If the government throws the service industry into a cutthroat competitive environment created by the cross-strait treaty, it would be an irresponsible thing to do.

Most workers in the service sector are older than their counterparts in other industries, which means it would be harder for them to make a career change if they are forced out of their jobs because of the agreement. Is society ready for [such a dramatic impact]? I do not think so.

Our second major concern is the pact’s potential impacts on Taiwan’s democratic system.

We have all heard of China’s attempts to wreck Hong Kong’s press freedom by having Chinese corporations withdraw advertisements from newspapers whose political stances are not welcomed. The same thing would undoubtedly happen to Taiwanese media once Chinese investors are allowed to operate advertising companies in the country.

As for allowing Chinese businesspeople to invest in Taiwanese banks, it brings back painful memories of a past incident involving Chi Mei Group founder Hsu Wen-long (許文龍).

In 2004, Chi Mei’s China-based Zhenjiang plant was suddenly cut off from loans by local [Chinese] banks, which put the company under tremendous pressure, especially political pressure. A year later, Hsu came forward to support China’s enactment of its much-criticized “Anti-Secession” Law, which authorizes it to use non-peaceful means to prevent Taiwan from declaring independence.] It came as a shock to most people who knew Hsu personally.

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