Government Irresolution Could Doom TISA
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
November 7, 2013
Summary: TISA is not merely a bilateral interaction between Taiwan and the Mainland. It is the starting point for Taiwan's integration into the international trade network. We realize the government is aware of this. But those in power must be bold and forthright when faced with challenges. They must not act guilty and irresolute. They must explain matters clearly, so that the public will know what must be done.
Full text below:
The Cross-Strait Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) was signed on June 21. Since then controversy has raged on. The Legislative Yuan has decided it must hold a long string of public hearings before it begins the review process. The 10th hearing will be held today. After that, six more must be held. At the rate of one hearing every two weeks, public hearings could drag on into the Lunar New Year. The bill can no longer be passed this year.
Even more seriously, the public hearings remain mired in "Sez you, sez me" gridlock. For the general public, the more it hears, the more it is confused. Making it all worse, we have ruling vs. opposition party political antagonism. All this makes TISA a critical first step for Taiwan's economic development. The future is filled with unknowns. Whatever the outcome, increasing polarization has already harmed Taiwan. Can the aftermath be dealt with? That depends on the government's confidence.
Over the past four months domestic debate over TISA has raged on. The government miraculously transformed a benefit to the nation into a disaster. This is deeply troubling. Consider the outcome of TISA negotiations. Based on WTO liberalization requirements, Beijing made 80 additional commitments to Taipei. Trade on these items has been liberalized. With the exception of Hong Kong, the conditions were more favorable to us than they were in the 12 FTAs Beijing signed with other governments. Simply put, these 80 commitments to Taipei are global business opportunities unmatched by any others in the entire world. Of course, no agreement can guarantee success. But this one at least provides Taiwan businesses conditions better than those offered any other government. Yet many on Taiwan persist in demonizing this golden opportunity and depicting it as a lethal threat.
Consider the 64 commitments our side has made. The primary commitment was exemption from WTO liberalization requirements upon our WTO accession in 2002. In 2003 the Democratic Progressive Party was in power. It was already implementing WTO commitments. It was already preparing to allow Mainland investments into Taiwan. The items it was preparing to allow in were very similar to the 64 items TISA will allow in.
Now look further ahead. Among the 64 items Taipei promised to allow in, 27 were Mainland investments already allowed into Taiwan in three waves over the past five years. According to the "phased opening of Mainland investments in Taiwan" policy, the remaining 37 items will be allowed in gradually even without TISA. Consider the results of the 27 items already allowed in over the past five years. The record shows that concerns about a "massive invasion" and a "total collapse" have not materialized. Under the circumstances, concerns that the 37 items still to be allowed in will somehow cause Taiwan's industry to collapse or produce massive unemployment are utterly unfounded.
From this we can see TISA clearly favors us. This is simple fact. Yet even today, government officials have not been able to explain them to the public. They have left observers with the mistaken impression that their negotiations failed, that disaster looms, and that a massive invasion is imminent. Administration officials are so deficient in their ability to persuade and so wishy-washy in their resolve, that they defy credulity.
Consider the Ministry of Economic Affairs website. The government has made an effort to respond. But the data merely sits there. It has absolutely no impact at all. It is as if they had said nothing at all. The opposition grossly exaggerates the impact of the bill. But the government never explains matters simply and concisely. It never resolves public concerns. Even when ruling party legislators question them, their responses elicit boos and disbelief. From the very beginning the government has been in disarray. Now it has been reduced to mumbling to itself. Opposition charges are becoming shriller. Government resolve is becoming weaker. Will TISA be passed? The agencies in charge now appear indifferent. The service industries that support TISA now feel impotent. As a result, even more people wonder whether the government has something to hide. They wonder whether their timidity amounts to an admission of guilt.
Consider the matter from the perspective of international competition or domestic restructuring. If Taiwan is willing to cocoon itself, it will merely continue its descent into the abyss. If the government knows that TISA is beneficial to Taiwan, if it knows that economic and trade development must go forward, then it must regroup. It must seize the initiative. It must build consensus. It must let people know that TISA is to our advantage. It must rally people from different walks of life. It must shift the focus of the debate from individual tragedies and hardships, to collective long-term benefits. If cross-Strait economic and trade relations cannot take this step, it will erect political barriers to our FTAs with foreign nations, and to our economic integration in ASEAN. This is a difficult issue, one that opponents of TISA have never seriously given any thought to answering.
Even more seriously, suppose Taipei and Beijing want to participate in international trade negotiations such as ASEAN plus six? Suppose WTO obligations remain unresolved? How can international bodies such as ASEAN plus six tolerate our refusal to fulfill our obligations to the Mainland under WTO? TISA is not merely a bilateral interaction between Taiwan and the Mainland. It is the starting point for Taiwan's integration into the international trade network.
We realize the government is aware of this. But those in power must be bold and forthright when faced with challenges. They must not act guilty and irresolute. They must explain matters clearly, so that the public will know what must be done.
2013.11.07 03:53 am