Monday, June 22, 2009

ECFA is Merely A Framework: Does It really Warrant a Referendum?

ECFA is Merely A Framework: Does It really Warrant a Referendum?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 22, 2009

President Ma is standing pat. Everyone in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, from top to bottom, is promoting and studying ECFA. Meanwhile leaders of the opposition DPP have not been idle. They are aggressively pushing for a referendum. They hope to combine it with the year end county and municipal elections. First, they want to block the signing of any agreement. Secondly, they want to give a boost to Green Camp county and municipal election candidates. But so far, although the Ministry of Economic Affairs has held public hearings in the northern, central, southern, and eastern parts of the island, media coverage has been limited. Much of the dialogue has been "ministers talking to priests," i.e., shop talk between insiders. The public has a limited understanding of ECFA. It is insufficiently familiar with it. The Blue Camp doesn't know how to defend it. The Green Camp doesn't know how to attack it. The two sides "don't know what they're fighting for, or whom they are fighting for."

In fact, the specific content of ECFA is not yet clear. But based on similar agreements signed by other nations, we can discern ECFA's general outlines. Regional trade agreements signed by nations around the world, such as the European Union, North America Free Trade Agreement, ASEAN, were all made within the framework of the WTO. If the two sides of the Strait do sign ECFA, they are unlikely to violate WTO norms. One need only go online and read the global and regional economic and trade agreements, and Article 24 fo the WTO agreements, to understand the broad outlines of ECFA.

In general, the contents of regional trade agreements are tariff reductions (such as the Free Trade Agreement FTA), investment benefits, industrial cooperation, service sector benefits, and timetables for market liberalization. To actually negotiate so many items one by one would take at least three to five years. That being the case, why has President Ma openly declared that he hopes to sign it by the end of this year or the beginning of next year? Based on the above time line we can see that ECFA is probably a "two stage" affair. The government probably hopes to sign a framework before the end of the year. As for the substance within the framework, it must be negotiated and signed during the next phase. This is the only way one can sign by the end of the year, and talk about the details later.

Since ECFA negotiations are a two-stage affair, the government should explain the matter clearly, in plain language. It must prevent needless public misunderstanding and confrontation.

If the above mentioned "two-stage negotiations" framework is what it has in mind, then ECFA may be signed by the end of the year. After all, at this stage it is akin to a table of contents. A table of contents merely denotes the potential content of various chapters and sections. Once the author agrees to the table of contents, the next stage is to discuss the specific contents of each chapter, and to actually supply it. Only three to five years from now, after it is organized into a complete volume, will it be complete. In the above analogy, Taipei and Beijing are the co-authors of the chapters. They intend to use the next three to five years to fill in the various chapters with cross-Strait economic and trade content. Even if the table of contents indicates ten chapters, if negotiations reach an impasse, some chapters may not be completed. In the end, only six chapters may be completed. Therefore, negotiations over ECFA will address cross-Strait tax rates, industries, early harvests, and service industries. Each chapter may provoke controversies over the need for public oversight and feedback.

The Democratic Progressive Party proposes holding a referendum at the end of the year over ECFA. Its proposal, to approve or disapprove a book that contains only a table of contents, and blank pages in each of the chapters, is utterly pointless. The substantive content will be discussed in the future. One may, if one wishes, hold a referendum regarding future points of contention. But how can one hold a referendum over blank sheets of paper? Suppose the referendum fails to pass? Does that mean the ruling authorities can then sign any agreement they wish? Even one that might be detrimental to our interests? Suppose, on the other hand, the referendum passes, even though they have yet to discuss anything? Does that mean the DPP will refuse to engage in any form of negotiation or engagement whatsoever? How would that be any different from a blind "Closed Door" policy?" Is anyone concerned about "selling out Taiwan?" If so, doesn't that require substantive content within each chapter? So far all we have is a table of contents. So far there is nothing to sell.

Frankly the ruling authorities' are right to adopt a two-stage negotiation strategy. ASEAN plus three is ready to go. It will have an impact on Taiwan. Therefore Taipei must swiftly adopt a rough framework to address the disadvantages it will suffer as a result of ASEAN plus three. That is why ECFA involves two-stage negotiations. That is why its time frame is so protracted. Only then can the public on Taiwan have sufficient opportunity for dialogue. When the opposition DPP understands that ECFA involves a two-stage negotiation process, it should carefully consider whether there is any need to hold a referendum on the first phase table of contents. Does the DPP really want the public on Taiwan to hold a referendum to oppose the publication of any sort of book with any sort of content? If so, then the referendum will have no impact on the public whatsoever, other than reinforce prevailing stereotypes about the Democratic Progressive Party.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.06.22
社論-ECFA僅是框架目錄 要如何公投?








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