Cross-strait trade deal raises concerns in Taiwan
By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI - A broad coalition of Taiwanese labor, human rights and other civil society organizations is campaigning to block legislative ratification of the controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement signed on June 21 by representatives of Taiwan and mainland China.
The signing of the pact in Beijing, a continuation of the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in June 2010, sparked a two-day occupation of the legislative podium by opposition Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmakers. The boycott ended only after all legislative caucuses agreed that the agreement would be
reviewed line by line instead of being rammed through a ratification vote, as desired by the rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government.
President and ruling KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou and other officials maintain that the new deal is in Taiwan's favor since it would open 80 service product lines for Taiwan companies in mainland China compared to 64 service industries in Taiwan listed for market liberalization for investors and service providers from the People's Republic of China.
A post-signing impact study by the Chung-Hua Institution of Economic Research commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs released on July 16 forecast that the pact would lift economic growth by between 0.025-0.034 percentage points and provide over 11,000 new service sector jobs over the next decade.
Among the sectors to be opened up to Chinese investment and experts are financial services, hotels and restaurants, printing, consumer services such hairdressing and beauty parlors, wholesale commerce, transportation services, construction, telecommunications and many social services including care services for handicapped and elderly citizens.
However, a wide range of economists, labor and human rights organizations, small entrepreneurs and cultural figures together with opposition parties warn that the new pact will harm the interests of Taiwan workers and small businesses and to democratic freedoms out of proportion to its anticipated benefits.
During a rally in front of the Legislative Yuan on July 28, Cross-Strait Agreement Watch Alliance convener Lai Chung-chiang announced the official formation of the Democratic Front against the Black-Box Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement composed of a coalition of labor, human rights, environmental, social welfare and media reform organizations.
Critics have concentrated their fire on the lack of transparency in the negotiations, the asymmetrical liberalizations to the mainland's benefit and the impact on Taiwan society, culture and national security of deeper links with the mainland's party-state dominated economy.
The government did not conduct any comprehensive impact assessment or hold any substantive dialogue with industry associations, labor unions or legislators before signing this pact, Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Sun Yu-lien told IPS.
National Taiwan University department of economics chairwoman Professor Cheng Hsiu-lien told IPS that most of the market liberalizations offered by China have preconditions while most Taiwan's market openings for mainland companies are unconditional.
Cheng noted that Taiwan e-commerce ventures will not be allowed to directly offer cross-border services, but will have to set up joint ventures in China's Fujian Province and apply for licenses which would ban content contrary to Chinese policies, such as Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. Taiwanese e-commerce enterprises will be forced to take their capital, staff and know-how to the mainland and will also be forced to engage in self-censorship, warned Cheng.
Hong Yi Travel Services co-chairman Jack Tsai Chia-huang told IPS that the new pact would let mainland companies set up a vertically integrated system of travel agencies, hotels, transportation, restaurants and retail stores that would monopolize the cash flow from Chinese tourism and let the Taiwan people bear the costs to the environment.
Cosmetology and Hair Vocational Association chairman Peter Ku Wen-fa told IPS that officials affirm that Chinese workers will not be imported and so they will have to worry about their jobs.
"But we are more concerned with the likelihood that China's state enterprises will use their capital to buy up neighborhood beauty parlors and hair dressing salons and our beauticians or hair stylists will become employees in Chinese state enterprises."
Even businessmen eager to expand into the China market were dismayed. Locus Publishing Company chairman Rex Hau Ming-yi said in a news conference on July 27 that government negotiators had failed to press Beijing to allow Taiwan publishers and printers access to book and magazine publishing licenses but agreed to permit Chinese state-owned publishing groups invest in Taiwan's printing and wholesale market.
Taiwan publishers will be squeezed if mainland state companies gain control over printing and wholesaling and will be subject to self-censorship, said Hou, who added that the result would be the erosion of freedom of thought and cultural diversity in our own civil society.
National Taiwan University professor of economics Lin Shang-kai told IPS that the new pact will spark another wave of migration of capital, talent and knowhow to China and thus further push down investment, employment, wages and consumption in our own economy.
A survey of 1,008 Taiwan adults released in late July by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research found that 48% opposed signing the services trade pact, while 34% were in favor. These figures reflect a reversal three years ago, when 47% supported signing an ECFA compared to 32% who opposed.
The impact of the backlash was shown when Taiwan's 113-member national legislature began a two-week special session on July 29 during which the KMT had initially aimed to secure ratification of the pact. Instead, while the civic alliance held protests against the pact outside the Legislative Yuan complex, party caucuses agreed to submit the pact to review by a legislative committee in September.
Taiwan Democratic Watch president Hsu Wei-chun told IPS that the delay shows that citizen pressure can have an impact as many KMT lawmakers are aware that citizens on the streets and voters in their districts are very worried.