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June 24, 2017

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DPP's opposition to FEPZs 'obstructionist': NDC chief

TAIPEI -- The debate over controversial legislation on Free Economic Pilot Zones (FEPZs) has veered away from the bill's economic merit and become completely politicized, the official in charge of the pilot program said Friday.

The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is "opposing for the sake of opposing" simply because the bill was proposed by the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), charged National Development Council (NDC, 國發會) chief Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔).

He lamented in a radio interview that the debate was no longer focused on the nation's economic policies.

DPP lawmakers have insisted on scrutinizing the economic zone bill article by article, Kuan said, but they are simply engaging in a form of "technical obstruction" rather than really being interested in what the articles say.

One of the administration's initiatives to spur economic growth through liberalization, the economic zones consist of Taiwan's six major seaports, Taoyuan International Airport and the Pingtung Agricultural Biotechnology Park.

The opposition contends that the program was hastily drafted and gives a planned administrative authority too much power without regard for national security or the zones' environmental impact.

Because of the DPP's opposition, the bill is unlikely to pass during the Legislature's extra session that began Friday.

While remaining optimistic about Taiwan's economic prospects, Kuan said that structural issues in Taiwan's industrial sector are a cause for concern, and the "lack of momentum" is a major disadvantage.

As a consensus for economic freedom and openness has yet to be reached, Kuan said, the pilot zones will allow for trial and error to minimize opposition to the concept.

If the pilot zones yield positive results, they can be further expanded and promoted, but if the results are unsatisfactory, the zones will provide a testing ground for further observation and analysis, minimizing risk, Kuan said.

He described the planned zones as just one of many government policies aimed at reforming Taiwan's economy and said the economy would not collapse should the bill stall in the Legislature, but he hoped the zones could be launched and produce strong results.

Kuan reiterated that the loosening of trade laws as proposed in the bill was not unfounded but based on free trade agreements South Korea has signed with the United States and the European Union, he said.

If Taiwan is to sign more bilateral and multilateral FTAs in the future, these issues will need to be confronted sooner or later, he said, calling them "unavoidable."

Kuan said he had nothing against the DPP voicing its opinions, but substantive discussions were needed for any worthwhile opinions to emerge and be noted.

It took the Legislative Yuan's Economics Committee three weeks to review just three of the bill's 73 articles earlier this year, often under chaotic circumstances.

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