Do Not Allow CECA to Become an Ideological Struggle
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 16, 2009
Six large labor and business organizations recently asked the government to sign a "Comprehensive Cross-Strait Economic and Trade Agreement" (CECA) with Beijing, as soon as possible. National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi and Minister of Economic Affairs Ying Chi-ming responded positively to such suggestions. Since the Beijing and Taipei have few disagreements on this issue, it can probably be incorporated into cross-Strait consultations between SEF and ARATS this year. But DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen's immediately response was that it was "inadvisable." Clearly a consensus with the opposition DPP has yet to be reached.
Labor and business organizations' intense desire for CECA is not surprising. In recent years, ASEAN has accelerated the pace of regional integration. Taipei meanwhile, has been excluded. It has been left standing outside the door. On top of which, during the DPP's eight-year rule, not one single neighboring government signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with us. The DPP demagogued political issues, perpetuating cross-Strait political confrontation. The result was a period crucial to economic recovery was squandered on political struggle. This wasted time will be difficult to make up. Much of the KMT's cross-strait consultations after resuming office are in fact an effort to make up for lost time.
An even more pressing issue is the global economic crisis. Everyone knows Taiwan's economic lifeline is exports. This year the sector that shrank the fastest was the export sector. This is why not long ago many foreign institutions were pessimistic about Taiwan's economic performance this year. Taiwan's exports account for over 40% of total cross-Strait trade. The ASEAN plus three countries are gradually moving toward zero trade tariffs. Taipei does not enjoy such privileges. Taiwan's comparative advantage and competitive edge will be lost. This will accelerate its current marginalization, especially given the current situation. Europe and the United States, two major economies, are in serious recession, with no evidence of improvement in the short term. Protectionist sentiment simmers just beneath the surface. Taipei is caught in the middle. In the event Taipei comes up with "heads you win, tails I lose," its plight can be imagined.
When the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry responded to the six labor and business groups, it specifically referred to domestic sentiment in favor of CECA. And yet disagreement persists regarding the name of the agreement, how it is promoted, and its timing. Needless to say, this disagreement comes from the Green Camp. It worries that signing CECA will lead to the loss of "Taiwan's" sovereignty, and economic over-reliance on the mainland. In fact, when President Ma proposed that the two sides sign CECA, his chief concern was the potential diminution of ROC sovereignty. That is why he focused on abolishing cross-strait tariffs, trade and investment barriers, and on further liberalizing the free movement of high tech labor, investment funds, labor services, and merchandise. This gradually brings them in line with WTO norms, and with cross-strait economic and trade cooperation norms. Given Taiwan's past economic and trade flexibility in the global arena, such openness will provide increased opportunities. This will allow Taiwan-based businesses to position themselves in the new era of competitive trade. If they remain bound hand and foot, as they are currently, they will find themselves unable to advance or retreat. Much of Taiwan's current trade is heavily tilted toward the mainland. Over half of this tilt occurred under Democratic Progressive Party rule. Given the high degree of trade dependency, isn't the lack of even the most basic investment and trade agreements a serious problem, and the result of DPP dereliction?
The Ministry of Economic Affairs is not concerned about cross-strait political differences. It is concerned about ruling and opposition party differences. It is concerned particularly that the Democratic Progressive Party will persist in politicizing CECA. No matter how carefully the ruling KMT avoids sovereignty issues, the opposition DPP will sooner or later turn them into ideological issues. It did that last year, during the presidential election, by deliberately relabeling the "Cross-Strait Common Market" the "One China Market." A number of distorted interpretations of CECA have already been floated. If the ruling authorities wish to avoid a senseless debate over reunification vs independence between the ruling and opposition parties, it will have to make a real effort.
If the Democratic Progressive Party opposes CECA, it should not sing the same old ideological tune. Instead, it should offer its most convincing alternative. The public on Taiwan gave the Democratic Progressive Party an eight year opportunity. What did it get in return? East Asian regional economic integration is just around the corner. The global financial crisis has yet to subside. Taiwan's economy, dependent upon on the growth of exports, remains besieged on all sides. Signing CECA is merely one way to break through this seige. Besides, all cases involving tariff agreements must be approved by the Legislative Yuan. At that time all concerns will be addressed. If after all we have endured over the past eight years, we still cannot get past ideological struggles, that will be the real tragedy.