A mature and open economy like Taiwan should not bank on the establishment of special economic zones to drive economic development, and even if they are necessary, they would be completely different from what President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has proposed, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said yesterday.
“The DPP will demand that the government submit a comprehensive plan and assessment on how the free economic pilot zones would help upgrade Taiwan’s industry and benefit local sectors before agreeing to review the special statute awaiting screening in the legislature. The party does not rule out proposing its own initiative,” Tsai said at the conclusion of the DPP’s two-day policy meeting in Greater Taichung.
The meeting, which gathered party officials, lawmakers and mayors and commissioners of DPP-governed administrative zones or their deputies, was organized to discuss several agenda set to be screened in the extra legislative session that begins on Friday. Yesterday it focused on the topics of the free economic pilot zones and the cross-strait service trade agreement.
Participants at the meeting agreed that the concept of special economic zones — found more often in lesser-developed countries, such as China — should be avoided because it would mean extending different treatments to businesses in the same sector, creating unequal competition.
The policy, the crown jewel of Ma’s “Golden Decade” pledge, aims to set up free economic pilot zones in Keelung Port, Suao Port in Yilan County, Taipei Port, Taichung Port, Anping Port in Greater Tainan, Kaohsiung Port, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis in Taoyuan County and the Pingtung Agricultural Biotechnology Park to serve as models for business convenience and liberalization.
“The real, important issue today is not how many free economic pilot zones we would have and which city would have pilot zones, but whether the establishment of such a zone is legitimate and goal-oriented,” Tsai said.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has accused the DPP of inconsistency, saying party headquarters and local DPP government heads appear to be at loggerheads, with Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung both demanding the right to host the zones.
Former minister of finance and DPP consultant Lin Chuan (林全) countered that the KMT’s economic growth-focused policy was outdated, with the government stuck in the “export processing zone era” of the 1970s and 1980s.
What the government needs to do is draw up a grand strategy that will benefit Taiwan as a whole rather than simply establishing special economic zones across the country, opening “backdoors” for Chinese agricultural products, personnel, wild animal trade as well as medical and education services, among others, he said.
The DPP is set to unveil its economic strategy that is founded on three elements: innovation, employment and distribution, Lin said.
DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said the free economic pilot zone proposal needs to be overhauled and the DPP would insist on a clause-by-clause screening during the extra legislative session.
The senior lawmaker added that the KMT has relied on “old thinking” to deal with rapidly changing economic challenges, adding that providing tax incentives had proven to be an ineffective measure in attracting foreign investment.