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Thousands demand referendum on trade pact with China

2010/06/26 20:04:46

Taipei, June 26 (CNA) Thousands of protesters rallied in downtownTaipei in heavy rain Saturday to voice their opposition to a tradepact between Taiwan and China and demand a referendum on theagreement before it takes effect.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) heavyweights andthe demonstrators contended that the economic cooperation frameworkagreement (ECFA), which is scheduled to be signed in Chongqing, ChinaJune 29, was negotiated without transparency and will put localsmall- and medium-sized businesses at risk.

"A referendum will be the last line of defense for Taiwan'sdemocracy, " said DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen.

Taiwan's government has argued that the reduced tariffs, relaxedtrade regulations and liberalized market access under the ECFA willboost Taiwan's economy and to prevent it from being marginalized asEast Asia's economy becomes more integrated.

The DPP believes, however, that Taiwan, which currently sends 42percent of its exports to China and places about 66 percent of itsforeign direct investment there, will become even more dependent onChina's economy after the ECFA is signed, said Julian Kuo, convenerof the DPP's ECFA task force.

The ECFA negotiations also lacked transparency because they werenot monitored by the Legislature or approved by the people, Kuosaid.

"That's why a referendum is needed to gain the people's mandateon such an important issue that would affect the well-being ofmillions of people and thousands of private businesses," Kuo said.

Though items on the "early harvest" list, which was announcedThursday, will receive immediate tariff reductions, a majority of thebeneficiaries will be large businesses rather than SMEs, said formerVice President Annette Lu, who also expressed concerns about aninflux of cheap Chinese products.

Tsai said Taiwan was in danger of losing its "community-basedbusinesses" after the cross-Strait agreement goes into effect becauseTaiwan will be integrated into China's economy as a part of its supplychain, she said.

"Eventually Taiwan's economy will be a part of China's economy, "she said. "We're here to protect Taiwan's independent rights to makeour own decision and speak for disadvantaged groups."

The rally was comprised of two groups of protesters that arrivedfrom separate starting times before gathering at the plaza in frontof the Presidential Office.

Heavy rain began falling just past 5 p.m. before the two groupsarrived, which may have affected turnout. The number of demonstratorsappeared to be well below 100,000, the number the DPP said it wouldmobilize for the protest.

Former President Lee Teng-hui also attended the rally and spokeagainst the agreement, saying that the ECFA is not a good policy thatbenefits Taiwan's people.

(By Chris Wang)