President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday brushed aside concerns about possible negative impacts on the local service industry of the recently signed cross-strait service trade agreement, and insisted the pact will facilitate the nation’s bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional free-trade agreements (FTAs).
“The service trade agreement prepares us [Taiwan] for deeper trade liberation. We have a competitive advantages in the service industry, and there is no need to worry about the pact and underestimate our strengths,” he said at a joint graduation ceremony for military academies in Greater Kaohsiung.
If ratified, the agreement, which was signed on Friday last week in Shanghai by representatives of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, would open up 64 sectors of Taiwan’s service industry to Chinese investment, while China would open 80 sectors to Taiwanese businesses.
Lawmakers reached an agreement on Tuesday to review the agreement item-by-item and vote separately on each of its articles and sector-specific commitments, contrary to the hope of the Ma administration that the legislature would vote on the agreement as a whole.
Lawmakers also agreed at Tuesday’s meeting that the pact cannot take effect without the legislature’s ratification.
Ma yesterday defended the government’s efforts to contribute to the nation’s trade liberalization, saying the newly signed pact requires both Taiwan and China to open the service market and that Taiwan’s competitive service industry can enhance its development in China by entering its vast consumer market.
Citing the example of the opening up of the film industry across the Taiwan Strait under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), Ma said the nation’s film industry has since generated revenues of more than NT$3 billion (US$99.8 million) in China, while the average box office sales for Chinese movies screened in Taiwan in the past three years was NT$24 million.
Ma also stressed the importance of joining the TPP and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) for the nation to become a major global trading partner, and avoid lagging behind in pursuing regional economic integration.
“We are not yet qualified to join [the TPP and RCEP]. Taiwan is soon to sign economic cooperation pacts with Singapore and New Zealand, and these pacts are major prerequisites for us to join regional free-trade blocs,” he said.
Defending cross-strait exchanges in economic, cultural and other sectors, Ma said the government will continue to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait and seek to resolve disputes through diplomacy, even though China has not scaled back military deployments aimed at Taiwan.
Separately yesterday, Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said the government is set to begin a series of nationwide public hearings to explain the service trade agreement.
Ma, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and Vice Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國), along with government officials in charge of the policy and regulatory authorities of concerned service sectors, are to attend events aimed at fostering public understanding of the trade pact via discussions and presentations, Cheng said.
In holding more than 100 public hearings around the nation, beginning this weekend, government officials are to explain how the agreement would benefit Taiwan and provide businesses opportunities in China, while laying out complementary measures to reduce the negative impacts of further market liberalization on local industries, the Executive Yuan said.
Information regarding the timing and locations of the events will be made available online soon to encourage as many people as possible to join the discussion, the Executive Yuan said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan