TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – President Ma Ying-jeou and Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen sparred over plans for an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in the first-ever televised debate between the two Sunday. At the 140-minute exchange organized by Public Television Service, they traded accusations of intimidating the Taiwanese public, neglecting the country’s interests and threatening the economy’s competitiveness. Tsai repeatedly asked Ma for more details about how ECFA would influence employment and weaker sectors of the economy, but instead, the president defended his campaign for the trade deal as necessary to keep Taiwan competitive over the next decade. The DPP leader said that under ECFA, Taiwan would be forced to open up its markets for services and farm products completely within ten years after the signing of the deal, which the government wants to happen in June. Tsai repeatedly asked how he planned to deal with the unemployment expected to result from the total opening, but Ma failed to give a clear answer. Another 600 types of farm products from China would have to be imported freely, leaving only 200 under protection, she said. Tsai rejected allegations that the previous DPP administration had started the liberalization of farm products. She said it had only opened types of produce which was not competitive against Taiwanese products, and only because the World Trade Organization required it after Taiwan and China joined the group in 2002. Ma accused the DPP of intimidating the public by allegedly exaggerating the possible negative impact of ECFA on jobs and security, while Tsai alleged the government overemphasized the need for a quick signing of the deal, threatening the Taiwanese people that they would miss out on opportunities. The president accused the opposition of wanting to lock up the country and of harming its competitiveness by slowing down the trade agreement. Tsai accused Ma of underestimating the risks of signing a separate trade deal with China separately from the World Trade Organization structure. “The biggest difference between the DPP and the (ruling) Kuomintang is that the DPP wants to go with the world toward China, while the KMT goes with China toward the world,” Tsai said. She accused the government of causing Taiwan’s economy to rely too much on China, but Ma responded by saying most of the increase in cross-straits trade happened during the opposition party’s time in power from 2000 to 2008. “During the DPP era, the proportion of trade with China grew from 24 percent to 40 percent, but since I came to power two years ago it only rose to 41 percent,” he said. Tsai repeatedly asked Ma how many jobs would be lost as a result of this measure, but Ma failed to give a precise reply. She said he never answered questions about how large the impact of ECFA would be on Taiwan’s farmers and white-collar workers. During the debate, the president failed to reply to real concerns and accused the DPP of having locked up the country and failing to listen to government ECFA explanations, Tsai said at a news conference afterward. “Taiwan’s key social problem is a lack of jobs and the threat of a new redistribution of wealth after ECFA,” she said, adding that the government had no solutions and on explanation of how it would face the problem. Ma said he would not sign ECFA if it brought not benefits to Taiwan, but did not present the alternatives Tsai asked him for. Tsai also accused Ma of overestimating the benefits from tariff cuts. The government put tariffs in China trade at 9 percent, but the real figure lay below 2 percent, the DPP leader said. Tsai said Ma was consistently overestimating the benefits of tariff cuts. He was tailoring ECFA to the wishes of Big Business and had only consulted smaller companies later as an excuse against criticism. The two also differed about how ECFA would impact Taiwan’s economy. Ma said Taiwan would become more attractive to foreign investors, but Tsai said the lower tariffs would attract even more Taiwanese businesses to move to China where they could enjoy lower wages. The end result was fewer jobs and lower salaries for workers in Taiwan, she said. Instead of looking toward China, Ma should be moving forcefully ahead with a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States, she said. Tsai also lashed out at Ma’s rationale that ECFA was necessary because other Asian countries were cutting tariffs with China. Most of those countries manufactured products that were not competitive with Taiwan’s exports, she said. The opposition leader also said many Asian countries, including Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, had grave doubts about opening up their economies to cheap Chinese imports. The promised trade agreements between Asian countries and China might therefore not even happen, she said. Ma closed off by announcing he would take personal charge of a taskforce striving to sign more free trade agreements. “We call on China not to interfere with our efforts to sign FTAs with other countries,” he said. The president accused the DPP of wanting to wait until it was too late to respond to new circumstances. The debate was a high mark so far in months of heated exchanges about ECFA. Opponents of the planned deal also want a national referendum on the issue and a special review taskforce. The government turned down the demand for a legislative taskforce, and at first also rejected the referendum request. Over the past week, Ma and ruling Kuomintang leaders said they did not oppose a referendum, though their lawmakers voted down a DPP motion to put the subject of a referendum on the legislative agenda. The Taiwan Solidarity Union is expected to hand in the necessary signatures for the first part of a referendum to the Central Election Commission in early May. On June 6, shortly before the expected signing of the deal, the opponents want to rally 1 million people in protests against ECFA.