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Hypocrisy derails the service trade pact debate

Hypocrisy derails the service trade pact debate

Lawmakers screaming, pushing, shoving, posing for the cameras with bleeding lips or bruised hands. It has all been done before at Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan and gone around the world on major television news broadcasts.
The scene has been played out so many times, but usually until now, the party trying to move the session forward was the one with majority control, so mostly the Kuomintang. The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party was the camp occupying the podium, ripping the microphone out of the legislative speaker’s hands, throwing documents and cups of tea, locking up the doors to prevent a meeting from taking off. The DPP has been saddled with the moniker of being the obstructionist camp dragging down Taiwan’s economy.
This week however, roles have suddenly been changed. A lawmaker from the DPP, Chen Chi-mai, served as the convener of a meeting by eight committees called to review the trade in services agreement signed last year.
Instead of allowing the meeting to proceed as scheduled Wednesday, it was the KMT caucus which spoiled the opportunity for a review. The ruling party lawmakers claimed there were procedural problems with the session which had to be ironed out first before the review could begin.
The back and forth over this minor problem escalated into a full-scale war of words accompanied by fights and a lot of pulling and shoving, not to mention another delay to a long-awaited review of the trade pact.
The attitude of the KMT can only be described as hypocrisy. The ruling party’s only motive for disrupting the latest session is the fact that a DPP lawmaker was chairing the meetings, and not the KMT convener, Chang Ching-chung. The latter wants to turn the tables on the opposition and chair the meetings next week, but he has already received a stern warning that such a stratagem would not be welcomed.
The service trade pact was signed last June 21 after negotiations which were largely kept secret. The sectors of Taiwan’s economy most likely affected by the accord were never consulted, while the Legislative Yuan was completely left outside the process as well.
It was only with the largest amount of reluctance that the government conceded to the demands of the opposition for a more thorough review of the pact. The Legislative Yuan obtained the right to review each clause of the agreement and to vote on those separately.
While that may have sounded like a major step forward toward more clarity and transparency for a trade accord with China, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has also set clear limits. Premier Jiang Yi-huah said expressly that lawmakers would have the right to review the agreement, but not to amend it in any way, which calls the whole meaning of the review into doubt.
If an agreement cannot be changed, what is the point of lawmakers discussing it and holding votes on each clause? A series of 16 hearings about the provisions of the pact failed to move the administration into making a single change, again showing it is not sincere about the idea of a legislative review.
The government is clearly afraid of China’s reaction, which does not have to worry about a democratic process. The communist country has seen the deal as a fait accompli because it was signed last June, and no comments from lawmakers, businesses or civic organizations are going to change its mind. In their meetings with Taiwanese counterparts, Chinese cross-straits officials have emphasized the need to hurry up with the wrapping up of the trade accord.
Ma has obliged. Just this week, he set next June as the deadline for legislative approval of the pact, but the ruling camp has another ace up its sleeve, namely a legislative rule which allows an agreement to take effect if its review by lawmakers exceeds three months. In other words, if the current disruption can be maintained for three months, the agreement can go into effect without any meaningful review taking place.
While government officials have promised they will not follow this path, it remains to be seen whether a combination of pressure from China and election fever will not interact to make it go back on its promise. It wouldn’t be the first flip-flop by the Ma Administration in the face of adversity.
The trade in services pact is only the first phase of what the president has in store for the remainder of his final term. A similar agreement on the trade in goods is likely to follow, and the way the administration has handled the first pact does not augur well for the future.
Ma has packaged the service trade pact as a step toward membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and as a remedy for Taiwan’s recent economic ills. If the service pact is passed, then the country will be able to regain its status as one of the most vibrant “tiger” or “dragon” economies in East Asia, closing the gap with South Korea and Singapore.
Ma has said that if the service trade accord fails to advance, the United States will see this as evidence that Taiwan is not serious about joining international trade structures and about promoting free trade. Yet, there is no sign that the US is in any way pressuring Taiwan to approve the pact.
The country’s future is an issue too important to play games with. Ever since coming to power in 2008, Ma has locked the country’s economy tighter into China’s sphere of influence. The 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement is a major example of his stubbornness when it comes to the topic of trade with China. The new trade pacts are direct consequences of ECFA, which might also lead to the opening of Taiwan to more Chinese job seekers and to more agricultural produce from China, leading to grave concern from students and farmers, among other groups.
The ruling camp needs to stop its hypocrisy and begin a true, thorough review process with room for change. If some parts of the agreement are too bad for Taiwan, for its businesses and for its economic development, then those things need to be pointed out and necessary action taken to change them.
The procedure should include renegotiation, which does not equal total rejection of the pact but an adaptation of its less-than-perfect clauses to the needs of Taiwanese businesses.
The government needs to pick up the courage to defend the nation’s interests even in the face of bully tactics from China.


Updated : 2021-07-29 08:56 GMT+08:00