Taiwan Premier Liu says no timetable for CECA with China

Liu says government will take national security concerns into account when drawing up plans

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan said yesterday the contents and timing for an eventual economic agreement with China were still under discussion, and the government had not set a timetable.
President Ma Ying-jeou's idea of an economic accord - dubbed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement or CECA - has infuriated the opposition, which sees the plan as a step toward unification with China and a grave danger to Taiwan's sovereignty.
Supporters of a CECA include prominent business leaders, who argue the country could become marginalized next year when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations launch a free-trade zone with China, Japan and South Korea. The CECA supporters say that if Taiwan does not sign a trade agreement with China soon, the island's competitiveness will suffer and unemployment will rise even more.
Liu told lawmakers yesterday that the government would take national security concerns into account when drawing up plans for the agreement. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Mainland Affairs Council had to reach a consensus on the issues to be addressed, and as this was an agreement with China, the timing was not entirely in Taiwan's hands, Liu said.
The president is expected to discuss the topic of an economic accord with China in a televised interview this coming Friday, while a news conference is reportedly planned for next month.
Officials at the Straits Exchange Foundation, the semi-official body in charge of talks with China, said they hoped to have an opportunity to broach the subject of an economic agreement during the next round of cross-straits discussions, expected in May at the latest.
Taiwan is hoping to reach agreements with China about the joint fight against crime, regular flights and financial cooperation during the next negotiations, the MAC said yesterday.
The first round last June resulted in the launch of direct weekend charter flights and the opening of Taiwan to more Chinese tourists the following month. Agreements signed in Taipei last November expanded the flights to the whole week and to more destinations, while also introducing direct shipping links, expanding postal service and offering a framework for the exchange of information about food safety issues.
The government has also come under fire for being vague about the contents of an eventual agreement, but SEF secretary-general Kao Koong-lian said yesterday that the sooner Taiwan and China could begin discuss Chinese investments, the faster later talks on an agreement could advance.
Kao emphasized that both sides could only sign an agreement as equal partners, and that if Beijing insisted on its "One China" policy, there would be no economic agreement.
The SEF official also said that Taiwan could not be reduced to the same status as Hong Kong, since the latter had joined the precursor of the World Trade Organization as a British colony, while Taiwan entered in 2002 with the status of an independent tariff territory.
Taiwan should be signing free trade agreements with China and other countries under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party said yesterday.
Party official Chuang Shuo-han rejected government statements comparing Taiwan and China to the European Union while saying there was no political dimension to European Union membership. Ma should clearly explain what the treaty would imply and whether he had evaluated its eventual impact on Taiwan's economy, and its farmers, laborers and white-collar workers, Chuang said.
The Taiwan Solidarity Union, a smaller opposition party, insisted there should be a referendum on the issue. Chairman Huang Kun-hui accused the government of turning a major issue affecting the future of the nation into a children's game by insisting the agreement had to be signed, but without revealing its contents to the public.
Huang threatened last weekend to launch a recall campaign against the president if he went ahead with signing a treaty.
The TSU chairman said yesterday that Ma put ideology first, declaring an agreement should be concluded even before anyone knew what its contents should be.
Huang rejected the government's argument that Taiwan would be marginalized and put at a disadvantage by ASEAN competition. Taiwanese businesses have already numerous factories inside China, and Taiwanese exports are basically different from ASEAN products, so Taiwan should not be afraid of competition from Southeast Asia, Huang said.