Ma targets ECFA progress to offset lag in FTA talks

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
The China Post news staff

President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that he has been engaged in personally supervising the progress of tasks associated with further talks and implementation of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).

Ma said an expanded ECFA would augment the effects of the pact amid Taiwan's slow progress in signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with other trade partners.

He noted that beyond the early harvest ECFA lists, there are many more tasks that need to be done to bring the ECFA fully into play. “Accordingly, I'm supervising the progress of such tasks and trying to seek solutions to problems encountered,” Ma said at the opening ceremony of a forum in Taipei.

The forum, organized by the United Daily News Group, gathered politicians, business leaders and scholars to address and seek solutions for Taiwan's economic challenges in the coming two years.

Ma said that Taiwan has lagged far behind in signing FTAs with foreign trade partners compared to its major trade competitor South Korea, which has signed eight FTAs, has seven similar pacts under negotiation, and has eight more FTAs on the drawing board. “Accordingly, we have no second road to take but to step up our efforts to catch up in this regard,” Ma stressed.

The president went on to say that Taiwan cannot improve its competitiveness if it is excluded from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as increasing economic integration among countries has become a world trend.

“It is not that we cannot live if we don't join it (TPP), but the problem is when other countries are pushing for regional economic integration, and we are the only one left out, it would be difficult for us to boost our competitiveness and our global market shares would shrink gradually. So, we should rush to ease the crisis and avoid being marginalized,” Ma stressed.

He also pointed out that among Taiwan's three largest trading partners — China, Japan, and the United States — Taiwan has already signed an economic pact with China and an investment agreement with Japan. However, he also noted that talks with the U.S. are still stalled because of the issue of Taiwan's ban on imports of U.S. beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.

Ma said that if the beef issue is not resolved, it will be “very difficult” for Taiwan to resume Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with the U.S. or to join the TPP, a Pacific Rim free trade pact, within eight years, which is his administration's goal.

In addition, Ma said, Taiwan's exports account for 70 percent of its economy and are centered on information and communication technology products, a situation that he said needs to be adjusted to boost the country's competitiveness.

He also said that if Taiwan maintains its protectionist mindset it will not be able to liberalize its economy and compete with other countries.

Yesterday's forum was presided over by ex-President Vincent Siew, who called for immediate action to develop Taiwan into a value-added island in various aspects.

Meanwhile, Hu Sheng-cheng, an academician from Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institute, said in a discussion session that Taiwan needs to conduct more studies on the political aspects of free trade agreements, so that it can better grasp the possible political considerations that are stopping the U.S. from signing such agreements with Taiwan.

Hu also noted that insufficient investment in research and development is the reason for the decline in Taiwan's exports, adding that South Korea's R&D funding is four times that of Taiwan's.

He said that young Taiwanese are creative and have won many invention awards in international competitions, but added that their creativity is stymied because of the lack of a good mechanism to encourage companies to foster their ideas.

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