After a 10-year delay, negotiations on a China-Japan-Korea free trade agreement will finally begin within this year. This signifies the advent of a historic opportunity for Asia to strengthen its regional integration.
In his second four-year term, President Ma Ying-jeou should take bolder steps toward trade liberalization to prevent Taiwan from being marginalized.
Critics have often compared Taiwan with its main competitor, South Korea, citing Korea's achievements in developing its DRAM and flat panel industries and promoting the signing of trade pacts with other countries. They seldom mention, however, the concessions Korea has made in the process of pursuing the goals.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Once we enter FTA talks, we must be prepared to make concessions. With such a consensus lacking in the country, it is no wonder that Taiwan has made little progress in its bids for free trade deals, except for signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China.
There is a need for Taiwan to follow Korea's example and form a special team headed by the president to map out its priorities and tactics in moving toward participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In terms of the mindset in negotiations, Taiwan cannot continue to leave its doors just partially open and wait for others to make concessions.
In terms of the speed of negotiations, the Ma administration must make good use of the next four years, instead of allowing them to drag on for eight or 10 years, in light of the uncertainty over government policies following the next presidential election.
Any free trade negotiations involve give and take. Free trade arrangements may not necessarily bring gains, but without them, Taiwan will definitely lose its competitive edge. (Editorial abstract -- May 23, 2012)
(By Y.F. Low)