ECA Strategy Blueprint: Delayed Points of Light
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 10, 2012
Summary: Taiwan will be integrated into the regional economy. The roadmap showing how is about to be published. The temporary name for the Economic Cooperation Agreement (ECA) promotion and action plan is the "ECA Strategic Blueprint." It is the product of years of studies on how to participate in regional economic integration. It will become our declaration to the outside world. It will become our mission statement to our fellow citizens. It will become the framework that guides our implementation. The government's free trade agreement (FTA) policies can also be implemented this way. Such a step is crucial to Taiwan's economic and trade policies.
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Taiwan will be integrated into the regional economy. The roadmap showing how is about to be published. The temporary name for the Economic Cooperation Agreement (ECA) promotion and action plan is the "ECA Strategic Blueprint." It is the product of years of studies on how to participate in regional economic integration. It will become our declaration to the outside world. It will become our mission statement to our fellow citizens. It will become the framework that guides our implementation. The government's free trade agreement (FTA) policies can also be implemented this way. Such a step is crucial to Taiwan's economic and trade policies.
The ECA strategic blueprint being prepared echoes the proposals of this newspaper's Vision Workshop. On the 17th of last month, this newspaper's Vision Workshop issued its special report entitled, "Two Critical Years: Taiwan Fast Forwards." It also convened a "Two Critical Years: Paving the Way for Taiwan's Economic Future" economic summit on the 25th of last month. It called upon the government to respond proactively to the global wave of FTA signings, to establish an overall strategy, and to promote free markets. It called on the government to report on its progress on a regular basis. Less than ten days later, Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-hsiang said he would announce the ECA Strategy Blueprint. This prompt response deserves special affirmation. But society has greater expectations.
The fact is this strategic blueprint is tardy. Taiwan's participation in regional economic integration began in 1989, when it joined the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (APEC). More recently global trade liberalization shifted from multilateral consultations to bilateral consultations. This was due to slow progress in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha round of negotiations, launched at the end of 2001. Since then various forms of regional integration such as bilateral FTAs, ASEAN+N, ECAs, and others have appeared. In mid-August 2003, Korea announced its FTA Roadmap, (FTA blueprint), a full nine years before us. Consider our actual progress. In 2009 we began consultations on the cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA). This was our most important step down the road to FTAs. But there has been no follow-up. No significant progress has been made over the past three years.
Taking it slow is okay. Grinding to a halt is not. The strategic blueprint must acknowledge that we are a relative latecomer. We must make up for lost time and for lost opportunities. To achieve such ambitious goals, our strategic blueprint must declare its intention to the outside world. It must inspire fellow citizens at home. It must be clearly defined. Only then can it break through the limitations of its existing framework. Only then can it swiftly yield visible results. Only then can it make up ten years of lost time in two years.
Consider it a declaration to the outside world. According to the ECA Strategy Blueprint we will first sign agreements with countries with which we have the largest trade volume. We will adopt a strategy of simultaneously promoting FTAs, making multiple contacts, and signing FTAs one by one. Given these goals, our highest priority is follow-up consultations on ECFA. Next are the United States, Singapore, New Zealand, and other core trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) countries. After that are Japan, the EU, India, and Indonesia. Such a negotiation path accords with public perception. It is also our current restructuring. The central government has proclaimed it as a national goal. This enables our international allies to better understand our thinking and our needs.
Such a declaration can only yield limited results. After all, the decision is in other hands, not our own. The nations we have listed as our top priority, do not necessarily consider us their top priority. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, then no further progress can be made. Therefore this strategic blueprint is not merely a path. It is also a "point of light" that must attract other countries and persuade them to sign with us. This is our best approach to regional economic integration. This approach could not be clearer. As the international gateway to the Mainland China market, follow up consultations on ECFA are essential.
The second "point of light" in the strategic blueprint is internal cohesion. The government is planning to promote an ECA signing work program. It will require various agencies to conduct an inventory of economic and trade liberalization policies. It will attempt to understand, narrow, and remedy the domestic and foreign policy gap. Its name makes no difference. This program is domestically oriented. This is especially true for the executive branch program. It will determine how the Government promotes ECA, and the speed and the force that it exerts. This is up to us. It is how we demonstrate our desire to promote ECA. It is how we increase international recognition. As a result, this "point of light" must be bright. The program must be specific. The sharper its focus the better.
The third "point of light" pertains to executive branch implementation. The executive branch has been trumpeting FTAs for years. But it has little to show. President Ma has declared that he will personally lead the FTA promotion group. But FTAs involve far too many administrative details. President Ma may be sincere, but will probably be unable to deliver on his promise. Therefore he must establish an administrative system equivalent to the cross-ministry mechanisms required to join WTO. The aforementioned work program is essential to realizing our strategic blueprint.