Civic groups call for more transparency in Taiwan-U.S. trade talks
Taipei, May 24 (CNA) More than a dozen labor and environmental groups on Wednesday called on Taiwan's government to be more transparent and include them in its trade agreement negotiations with the United States.
At a press conference outside the Legislature, Chou Yu-hsuan (周于萱), deputy head of a federation of trade unions representing financial sector workers, said trade unions in Taiwan have been kept in the dark about the negotiations under the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade.
In addition to labor groups, environmentalists are also "very concerned" about the "lack of transparency" in the discussions between Taiwan and the U.S., added Chou.
The initiative between Taiwan and the U.S. was launched last June to strengthen bilateral economic and trade ties, and since then, officials from both sides have convened several times in Taipei and Washington.
However, according to Jiang Jian-hsing (江健興), president of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions, Taiwanese labor groups were only invited to attend discussions once in Taipei in January.
In addition, neither Taiwanese nor U.S. officials have so far responded to any of the appeals made by labor groups, he said.
The government ought to "actively engage in dialogue with civil society" before signing any agreement with the U.S. lest it "undermine the rights of Taiwanese workers" and "jeopardize the environment," he added.
Chou went on to say the government could either include labor groups in its future negotiations with the U.S. or hold public meetings and hearings to keep them updated as to what has been discussed in those negotiations.
Wednesday's press event followed an announcement by Taiwan's Office of Trade Negotiations under the Cabinet last Friday that Taipei and Washington had concluded negotiations "on the first phase" of the bilateral initiative.
The office said the "First Agreement" would be signed by both sides "in the coming weeks," covering such areas as customs and trade facilitation, regulatory practices, domestic regulation of services, anti-corruption practices, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
The office also made public a draft agreement containing eight chapters and over 80 articles the same day.
Other topics outlined in the initiative, such as agriculture, standards, digital trade, labor, environment, state-owned enterprises, and non-market policies and practices, will be included in subsequent negotiations, according to the office.
At the press conference, the civil society groups also questioned the government's assertion that the First Agreement does not need legislative approval.
Taiwan's deputy trade representative Yang Jen-ni (楊珍妮) told a legislative hearing on Monday that the agreement had been designed as an "executive agreement" and therefore would not need to be ratified by the Legislature.
However, lawyer Huang Xin-wen (黃馨雯) cited Article 3 of the Conclusion of Treaties Act as saying the agreement must be approved by the Legislature as it concerns the rights of the public and includes important matters of national interest.
Article 3 also stipulates that an agreement between Taiwan and another government should be ratified by the Legislature to take effect if it involves "changes to domestic laws," said Huang, who works with the Environmental Rights Foundation.
Parts of the draft agreement revealed by the trade office are inconsistent with Taiwan's current laws, meaning those laws would have to be amended, she added.
Prior to the press conference outside the Legislature, the groups, which also include the Taiwan Association of Human Rights and the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, sent a petition letter to the Cabinet.
The letter was received by assistant trade representative Benjamin Hsu (徐崇欽), who said only that the trade office would take the suggestions of such civil society groups into consideration.
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