From Cross-Strait Negotiations to Regional and International Economic and Trade Negotiations
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 17, 2009
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (APEC), which opened on the 15th in Singapore, has reached a successful conclusion. In the wake of the global financial tsunami, many nations are struggling to get back on the road to recovery. The theme of the summit was "sustainable growth, regional linkage." It clearly conveyed the inevitable trend toward regional economic integration. In order to to safeguard the nation's development, and to avoid being isolated, the Republic of China must pick up the pace by actively seeking opportunities to participate.
APEC is often regarded as nothing more than a political shindig. The main attraction has long been the impromptu "fashion show" put on by the leaders of the summit, who appear before the media in traditional clothing from the host nation. But this year discussions resulted in a clear consensus. Asia-Pacific regional reconstruction and trade and economic integration increased. And Mainland China has been acknowledgeds as the locomotive that will lead the Asia-Pacific region out of its economic plight.
Even the United States was afraid of being shut out. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would join the "Pan-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement," and conduct exchanges with TPP Member States. He believes it will provide jobs and economic prosperity for the American people. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also pointed out that the TPP can be a model for regional free trade agreements. Following Obama's unambiguous declaration, the desire of Asia-Pacific nations to join was even greater. The TPP may develop to the point where it includes the twenty-one Member States of the APEC free trade region.
In fact, the pace of Asia-Pacific trade and economic integration has accelerated in recent years. Mainland China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are already principal members of "ASEAN plus One." This has had an immediate impact on Taiwan. We may soon face "ASEAN plus Three" and other such free trade blocs. Taiwan is dependent on foreign trade. Being excluded from such free-trade groups, means the loss of important opportunities for development. The impact will be incalculable.
Last year's financial tsunami flooded the world. It also led to an unprecedented global fight to save the economy. It highlighted the importance of regional trade groups. As the economies of Europe and the United States gasp for air, emerging nations have seized the opportunity to establish themselves. The light of the G8 has faded. The G20 has become a forum for the discussion and establishment of new financial standards. Many feel that only the G2 ─ the United States and Mainland China, are able to lead the world. An economic catastrophe has changed the world's political and economic ecology. Their thinking is now very different. The Asia-Pacific region's evaluation of Mainland China is much higher. Nations around the world now pay much more attention to Mainland China's influence.
Amidst such an atmosphere, many regions have formed free trade blocs. The Asia-Pacific countries in particular see Beijing as a candidate for free trade links. In the past Taipei was subject to political constraints. Establishing free trade agreements was very difficult. Suppose the twenty one countries of APEC establish a free trade zone. This once loose organization will become a free-trade group that includes over 200 million people. At the very least it will increase APEC's trade and economic integration. If Taipei can not join, the situation will become critical. Especially this time, APEC nations held a climate conference outside the conference. Taipei alone was left out in the cold. This underscored even more the importance of joining more international groups as soon as possible.
In the past, the one blocking Taipei was Beijing. This pressure has now diminished. Taipei now has more opportunities to participate. This demonstrates the importance of signing the agreement on cross-Strait economic cooperation (ECFA). ECFA is not merely a channel by which Taipei can expand cross-Strait business opportunities. It is also a basis by which it can talk and establish free trade agreements with other nations. During an era in which economic and trade exchanges are increasingly conducted through groupings, If Taipei fails to find a way in, will find itself with less and less room to maneuver.
This of course, is no easy task. Cross-Strait consultations on ECFA were a complex and difficult process, filled with surprises. The atmosphere was uncertain. Even though it was finally signed, will follow-up co-operation proceed smoothly? Will it break the impasse over negotiations with other countries regarding FTAs? Just what are the limits of Beijing's goodwill? Can Taipei establish a new model of international cooperation in the space opened up? Taipei continues to face many challenges.
Former Vice President Lien Chan attended the APEC summit as President Ma Ying-jeou's representative. Fortunately he and Mainland Chinese President Hu Jintao made clear that the launching of ECFA this year established a new starting point. The MOU concerning further cross-Strait financial cooperation was signed on the 16th. We hope its provisions can be implemented smoothly, creating additional opportunities for Taiwan's economic development.
這樣的大趨勢，美國也不敢置身於外。美國總統歐巴馬因此宣布，美國將加入「泛太平洋戰略經濟夥伴關係協定」（the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement），與ＴＰＰ會員國交往，相信將帶給美國人民就業機會和經濟繁榮。新加坡總理李顯龍也指出，ＴＰＰ可以成為一個區域自由貿易協定的模範。在歐巴馬明確表態之後，亞太地區國家加入的意願更高，未來ＴＰＰ可能發展成涵蓋ＡＰＥＣ廿一個會員國的自由貿易區。