Businesses to discuss pros and cons of trade pact with China (update)

Taipei, March 23 (CNA) The head of the General Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan said Sunday it will host a series of hearings this week for businesses in the local service sector to give their views on the benefits and disadvantages of a controversial trade pact with China. Lai Cheng-yi, also chairman of the local construction group Shining, said the participants will include representatives of beauty treatment and car maintenance enterprises, which are among the businesses that will open up to Chinese investment under the pact. Taiwan and China signed the trade-in-services agreement last June but it has been stuck in the Legislature amid concerns about eroded job and business opportunities in the service industry, including the printing, beauty treatment and restaurant businesses. On March 18, student-led demonstrators stormed the Legislature and since then have been occupying the chamber in protest against ruling Kuomintang lawmakers' efforts to fast track the legislative processing of the agreement. Opposition lawmakers have been seeking to have the pact examined item-by-item but progress was stalled until March 17, when KMT legislators unilaterally announced that the legislative committees' joint review of the agreement had been completed and the pact should be examined next in the floor session. In a public address on the issue Sunday, President Ma Ying-jeou said his administration had agreed on an item-by-item legislative review. He urged the protesters, meanwhile, to vacate the Legislature soon so that it can resume its normal functions. Lai said he also supports the proposal of an item-by-item review, but only if it would take public interest into consideration. He said he was against irrational or violent actions to stall or block such examination of the pact and suggested that lawmakers complete their review within a month. Meanwhile, Tsai Lien-sheng, secretary general of the Chinese National Federation of Industries, called for in-depth communication between government supporters of the pact and its opponents within a month, as a way to end the standoff. He suggested that such communication would help the public fully understand the pact, saying that many proponents and opponents are misguided either by their bias against China or the belief that the agreement will be a panacea for Taiwan's economy. Some tycoons in the technology sector, meanwhile, expressed mixed views about the occupation movement and voiced their support for the pact, saying it is vital to Taiwan's development. Bruce Cheng, founder of Taiwan's Delta Group, a leading power management solutions provider, called for reason among the student-led protesters, saying their occupation of the Legislature should not be allowed as it puts the rule of law, and hence democracy, at risk. Stan Shih, founder of Taiwan computer maker Acer Inc., said the controversy stems mainly from "a lack of transparency in the whole process" and qualms about possible threats to national interests. However, it is a fact that Taiwan has been "marginalized," Shih said. He also said the services trade agreement is crucial to Taiwan's economic development and its drive for innovation. "Taiwan has no future without trade in services," he said. (By Constant Wu and Scully Hsiao)