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United Daily News: Transparency would help speed up trade talks

2012/04/23 20:14:00

Taipei and Beijing are scheduled to hold a new round of talks under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) on April 26. Unlike the ECFA, which has received considerable attention domestically, leading to more transparency, Taiwan's free trade agreement talks with other countries have either stalled or have been kept in the dark from the public.

President Ma Ying-jeou said recently that Taiwan's economy will be transformed should Taiwan complete negotiations under the ECFA with Beijing and reach free trade deals with New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States.

But so far, people in Taiwan are unaware of the progress achieved in talks with countries outside China, and the Ma administration does not want to elaborate on the issue, fearing obstruction from Beijing. This lack of transparency will not help move trade talks forward.

Some 19 months have passed since Taiwan first started FTA talks with Singapore, with no signs that a deal is any closer. In contrast, South Korea's free trade talks with the European Union (EU) took only 19 months to complete.

Government officials may think closed-door discussions on free trade deals help reduce external disturbances, but the lack of transparency provides a breeding ground for rumor and speculation, which hurts the credibility of the agreements.

Authorities in U.S., the EU, Japan, and South Korea tend to publicly announce the time, venue and agenda for each negotiating session, and then disclose the progress and results of each session.

In Taiwan, however, the government only makes a one-time announcement after an agreement is inked. Such a strategy creates confusion among the public and easily sparks criticism.

Promoting transparency will also help affected groups make timely contributions to the talks should their interests be compromised, which will make the result more acceptable to the public. (Editorial abstract -- April 23, 2012)

(By Ann Chen)