The economic cooperation agreement between Taiwan and New Zealand was signed without giving sufficient consideration to the 5,635 registered livestock enterprises in the nation that will shoulder an estimated NT$3.5 billion (US$116 million) in losses because of the pact, People First Party (PFP) caucus whip Thomas Lee (李桐豪) said yesterday.
Lee criticized President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration for its customary “no notification, no negotiation, no preparation, no discussion” approach to signing pacts like the the cross-strait service trade agreement and the Taiwan-New Zealand agreement, titled the Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu on Economic Cooperation (ANZTEC).
When Ministry of Economic Affairs officials briefed the Legislative Yuan on the ANZTEC, they only made a passing mention of the NT$3.5 billion in agricultural losses to be incurred once the agreement goes into effect, he said.
The officials did not present a list detailing what items would cause such losses, Lee said, adding that the briefing had also skimped on how the ministry had evaluated the pact prior to its signing.
Put next to the nation’s annual budget, NT$3.5 billion may not seem like much, but the bulk of the losses are likely to fall on the shoulders of the husbandry industry and related industries, he said.
Lee cited as an example the dairy industry, which is floundering despite the 15 percent customs tariff levied on foreign imports.
Faced with an influx of dairy imports from New Zealand, a country with an economy solidly based on its husbandry and dairy industries, Taiwan’s dairy and husbandry sectors would not be able to compete if the customs taxes are removed, he said.
Lee emphasized that his party was not opposed to the ANZTEC in general, but was against the lack of consideration and forethought the ministry and the Council of Agriculture put into its possible impacts before they agreed to sign it.
The ministry and council are too rigid in their thought process and erroneously seek to mitigate domestic agricultural losses caused by international treaties by reimbursing farmers, he added.
The government allots NT$8.4 billion a year for the council’s program to reimburse farmers for their losses due to foreign imports, NT$6.8 billion of which is used to subsidize farmers with fallow farmland.
However, this program does not help the industry’s competitiveness at all, Lee said.
Lee called on the government to be more strategic when devising economic policies, adding that it should propose viable methods for revitalizing and redefining the agricultural sector.
The government should also determine what items are eligible for compensation for import losses and make sure that products are correctly labeled with their origins because such measures would help industry owners connect positively to the global market, Lee said.
The PFP is calling on the council to make a detailed analysis of husbandry industry subsidies and devise practical fund allocation methods, Lee said, adding that “the council should avoid spending money on policies that do not help the agricultural sector.”
Separately yesterday, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said it welcomed the ANZTEC and pledged to support legislation related to the trade agreement in the Legislative Yuan.
Trade relations between Taiwan and New Zealand are more complementary than competitive, so the ANZTEC poses less of a threat to Taiwan’s economy than other trade pacts, DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) quoted DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) as saying at a weekly meeting of the party’s Central Standing Committee.
While the annual two-way trade volume between the two countries was just US$1.2 billion and the pact “more symbolic than substantially beneficial,” reaching the deal was still a significant accomplishment, DPP caucus convener Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said.
However, Ker denounced the Ma administration’s attempt to depict the ANZTEC as a catalyst for more free-trade agreements with major trade partners in the future and its claim that opposing the cross-strait service trade pact would negatively affect the ANZTEC.
“The service trade pact, which would affect the livelihood of millions of people, and the ANZTEC are two different things,” Ker said.