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September 23, 2017

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Business groups voice concerns on economic impact of protest

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Business interests on Thursday voiced concern that the ongoing protest against the service trade pact with China at Taiwan's Legislature could hurt the economy.

The protest has stalled parliamentary activities since late Tuesday, when hundreds of protesters stormed the Legislative Yuan in protest of the pact that they say was negotiated with Beijing in a non transparent measure and forced through the legislative process.

Tsai Lien-sheng, the head of Taiwan's Chinese National Federation of Industries, said their continued occupation of the legislative chamber could reflect poorly on Taiwan in future talks of a trade-in-goods deal with China and could hurt the island's aspirations to join free trade blocs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

He warned that if that happens, the very young people protesting will be the ones who lose opportunities.

On the other hand, Lai Cheng-I, chairman of the General Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of China, is concerned that Taiwanese products will lose their competitiveness if the service trade pact is blocked.

Taiwanese goods will face higher tariff rates than products from South Korea, Taiwan's long-time trade rival, he said.

He also cautioned that a lack of opening will turn Taiwan into a country like the Philippines or Greece, an apparent reference to the former country's fall from prosperity and the latter's debt problems.

He recognized the protester's right to make their opinions heard, but called for rational discussion of the issues rather than drastic moves.

Protesters worry that the pact, which will open large parts of Taiwan's service sector to China and vice versa, will threaten the survival of Taiwan's small and medium-sized enterprises, workers, farmers and businesspeople.

They have demanded the trade in services pact be sent back to legislative committees for an item-by-item review before a floor vote, following ruling Kuomintang lawmakers' move Monday to sidestep that review by labeling the pact an executive order.

They also want an apology from President Ma Ying-jeou and the resignation of Premier Jiang Yi-huah, as well as the immediate introduction of laws to govern all future agreements with China.

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