ECFA: Ruling and Opposition Parties Should Return to Reason
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 8, 2010
Taipei and Beijing have signed the cross-strait economic framework agreement (ECFA). Once ECFA has been reviewed by the Legislative Yuan, the DPP should cease its obdurate opposition, and adopt a new and more rational attitude, by helping oversee ECFA.
Ever since ECFA negotiations began, the DPP has been obstinately opposed to it. It opposed it upon completion of negotiations. It opposed it when the early harvest list was announced. It opposed it even though the government negotiated favorable terms for our side. It opposed it even though Beijing made generous concessions. It opposed it even after internationally renowned financial experts affirmed its value. On this point at least, the DPP can claim the dubious distinction of "being consistent from beginning to end." Having mired itself in this "opposition to the bitter end" quagmire however, the DPP now finds it even more harder to fulfill its proper role as the loyal opposition providing legislative oversight.
In retrospect, the Democratic Progressive Party's justifications for opposing ECFA can be divided into the political and the economic. The political justifications it cited include concern for sovereignty. But if one pores over the text of ECFA, one cannot find a single word touching on politics or sovereignty. What can one say except that the DPP has scared itself and its supporters to death, for no reason.
The DPP cited many more economic justifications, but every one of them equally absurd. They failed to withstand careful scrutiny, and even contradicted one other. Early during negotiations, the DPP said ECFA would allow Mainland workers to flood the island, putting Taiwanese out of work. Even though the government repeatedly made clear that Mainland workers would not be permitted to work on Taiwan, the DPP continued to make this claim in their propaganda. Free trade agreements (FTAs) the world over direct themselves at goods and services. Services involve small numbers of high-end white-collar service positions. No FTA has ever opened up a nation's borders to unrestricted immigration. If the DPP is actually wringing its hands over such concerns, then it is ignorant beyond belief. If the DPP knows the truth but is deliberately deceiving the public, then it is unethical beyond belief.
The DPP says it is afraid that more vulnerable industries and workers will be harmed. That was why it opposes ECFA. But the DPP has simultaneously demanded that the government sign FTAs with European nations, the United States, Japan, ASEAN nations, and other major nations. It has even suggested that the government first sign FTAs with the United States and Europe, then sign ECFA with the Mainland. Clearly, the DPP is guilty of a gross contradiction.
All FTAs involve the two parties opening their markets to each other. Most FTAs make over ninety percent of their goods tariff free. Every economy will negatively impact some weaker, less competitive industries. But country A's comparatively weaker industry may be country B's comparatively stronger industry. During the bargaining process, some industries will be winners, and others will be losers. FTAs will eventually force weaker industries to face competitive pressures from abroad. Therefore, if the DPP's justification for opposing ECFA is to protect weaker industries, it ought to oppose FTAs. After all, the industries vulnerable to ECFA are the industries vulnerable to FTAs. If the DPP is urging the government to swiftly sign FTAs with other major nations, then the DPP's rhetoric is utterly incoherent and flatly self-contradictory.
During the Two Yings Debate, DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen issued a dire warning. She said that Hong Kong was experiencing a widening gap between rich and poor because of CEPA, and that ECFA would exacerbate the wealth gap on Taiwan. In fact during the past decade, the gap between rich and poor in all nations has continued to increase. The main reason is that with globalization the "winners circle" has gotten smaller. Governments have yet to compensate for changes in the domestic distribution of wealth. Taipei has yet to sign an FTA with any major nation, yet the gap between rich and poor has widened steadily over the past ten years. On the other hand, Japan has signed FTAs with many other nations, yet its domestic gap between rich and poor has not gotten worse. Obviously allegations that ECFA will lead to a widening gap between rich and poor is utterly beside the point. FTAs are merely one facet of globalization. Refusing to become part of the larger circle of globalization leads to greater losses, and makes economic growth even more difficult.
When ECFA was submitted to the Legislative Yuan for review, the DPP demanded a line by line review instead of a package review. Even then its justifications were utterly unconvincing. In 2007 the United States and South Korea signed an FTA. The U.S. Congress objected to the articles pertaining to U.S. beef and automobiles. As of today, the bill has yet to pass. But neither nation's legislators demanded a line by line review. If the FTA was unacceptable, they would simply have rejected it in toto. In fact ECFA is an FTA. If the DPP considers it a poorly drafted FTA, it can simply urge its rejection. Should an FTA be subjected to line by line review by members of the legislature? Should it be custom tailored according to the whims of individual legilslators? Should even the early harvest list be subjected to a vote? In one's dreams maybe, but not the real world. If one is willing only to approve what is to one's benefit, and unwilling to approve anything that is not, who is going to be willing to negotiate with you?
When addressing ECFA, the DPP should not blindly play the role of naysayer. Instead, it should adopt a more active and constructive role. For example, once ECFA comes into force, it will inevitably harm some domestic industries. When the government comes up with a budget providing relief for victimized industries, the DPP should to play a more professional role. It should help determine the appropriate compensation, instead of indulging in demogogic obstructionism. Such antics do a disservice to society and the public, to the vulnerable industries and workers the DPP purports to care so much about, and even to the DPP itself.