ECFA may act as catalyst: Lai

FIRST OF MANY?: The MAC chairwoman said that as the nation has an export-driven economy, the signing of an ECFA with China may trigger a series of FTAs with Taiwan

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wed, Oct 07, 2009 - Page 3

Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) yesterday said the council hoped the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) that the government is looking to sign with Beijing would motivate neighboring countries to ink free trade agreements (FTAs) with Taiwan.

Emphasizing the planned pact would be “purely economic” in nature, Lai said it would not address political issues or sovereignty.

While a closer economic partnership arrangement signed between Hong Kong and Beijing made clear that the special arrangement was made under the “one country, two systems” principle, Lai said Taiwanese would never accept signing the ECFA under such a model.

Lai made the remarks while addressing the annual conference for Overseas Chinese in Europe at the Howard Hotel yesterday morning.

Lai told the audience that as Taiwan has an export-driven economy, signing an ECFA would only drive neighboring countries to want to sign FTAs with Taiwan.

“The ECFA will serve as a significant catalyst for Taiwan’s attempt to be part of the economic integration in the region,” she said.

Lai said any “elementary school student” would know that Taiwan would be in an unfavorable position if the country did not sign an ECFA with Beijing because ASEAN products would begin to enjoy zero tariffs when the ASEAN Plus One goes into effect in January.

“We are sorry to know that some people have doubts about the proposed pact,” she said. “Unlike FTAs signed between two countries or the North America Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, the ECFA is a framework agreement and does not cover many areas.”

Lai said she hoped the ECFA would be signed as soon as possible. The planned agreement would cover investment guarantees and intellectual property rights, Lai said, adding it was hoped that a list of industries free from economic restrictions would be ready by next year.

Regarding cross-strait negotiations on political issues, Lai said the time was not right to tackle such issues because of the controversy they raise and differences on both sides.

Lai said President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government has conducted studies on such issues as establishing military confidence building mechanisms and signing a peace agreement with Beijing, but both sides still needed to build trust.

“There is no timetable for political negotiations,” she said.

Ma has also set the preconditions for political talks, she said, adding that his proposal that Beijing must remove missiles targeting Taiwan is a public consensus.

Lai said that the government’s cross-strait policy would proceed gradually, adding that it would tackle easier and more urgent issues first and steadily move toward more difficult and less pressing ones. Economic issues would precede political ones, she said.

Any isolated case such as the visit of the Dalai Lama was unlikely to change the course of peaceful development in the Taiwan Strait, she said. While cross-strait issues have always been controversial and received much public attention as well as criticism, Lai said, the Ma government would proceed in a gradual and stable fashion.

It is true that some opposition parties do not see eye to eye with the administration’s China policy, but a responsible government will make efforts to effectively communicate with them, she added.