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Mainland Affairs chief defends trade pact with China

2010/04/04 21:19:36

Taipei, April 4 (CNA) Mainland Affairs Council Minister LaiShin-yuan defended a proposed economic cooperaton framework agreement(ECFA) with China Sunday in an interview with cable station SanlihE-Television (SETTV).

The minister rebutted opposition Democratic Progressive Partyclaims that Chinese agriculture products and workers will eventuallybe brought into Taiwan according to rules of the World TradeOrganization (WTO), despite the government's promise to the contrary.

The opposition party has argued that under WTO rules, ECFA isonly a transitional step toward a free trade agreement, andsignatories are obliged to open their market to 95 percent of eachother's commercial products and services within 10 years.

"There are no such rules under the World Trade Organization, andthe DPP is well aware of that," Lai said to SETTV, which tends to becritical of the government and ruling Kuomintang.

"No country in the world has opened its market completely toanother state's goods, and that's especially true for agriculturalproducts. The United States hasn't and neither has the EuropeanUnion," Lai said.

She also dismissed opponents' concerns that what Taiwan gains inthe initial rounds of negotiations -- thanks to China's promise tooffer Taiwan concessions -- will be lost later as it will be forcedto compensate Beijing for the concessions that were made.

Lai said both Beijing and Taipei have realized the sharpdifference in the size of their economies and contended that Chinawill not have more items than Taiwan on a list of goods and servicesthat will enjoy greater market access or immediate tariff reductionsor exemptions.

Each side will seek their own maximum benefit when drawing uptheir lists of products designated for preferential treatment, calledthe early harvest list, but the final list will depend onnegotiations, the minister said.

Lai said the proposed pact enjoys the support of about 50 percentof the people according to various opinion polls, but the government,which is hoping for a higher support rating, is still not satisfied.

Noting that the complexity of such a pact is difficult forordinary people to understand, Lai said Japan has inked free tradepacts with other states when polls showed only 10 percent of thepeople supported them.

She also dismissed the idea of having an ad hoc team of lawmakerssupervise the government's engagement with China, saying existingmechanisms have provided lawmakers with sufficient opportunity todiscuss and supervise the executive branch's work related to mainlandChina affairs.

When asked why Chinese top negotiator Chen Yunlin referred her byher name rather than her official title in their two public meetings,the minister said she understood Chen's concerns as Taipei andBeijing have yet to acknowledge each other officially, and theproblem is not expected to be solved in the near future.

"He paid a visit on me because I am the head of the MainlandAffairs Council, and the country's sovereignty is none the worsebecause of Chen's omission of my title," Lai said.

President Ma Ying-jeou's administration has gone all out to pushfor the pact with China -- and hopes to sign it in June -- to preventTaiwan from being economically marginalized as other states in theregion form trade blocs.

The initiative has drawn fire from the DPP, which believes thepact undermine the country's sovereignty and provide Beijing withleverage in trying to annex Taiwan, which it considers part of itsterritory.

(By Feng Chao and Maubo Chang)