Taiwan-China ECFA needs renegotiation

Taiwan News | 2010-08-13

Taiwan-China ECFA needs renegotiation

The controversial "Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" with the authoritarian People’s Republic of China will almost certainly be rubber-stamped early next week in a special session of the Legislative Yuan, which is controlled by the ruling rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) of President and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou.

On the surface, there should be smooth sailing for Ma’s desired rapid "up" vote for the the ECFA, which was signed June 29 by Taipei’s Strait Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Ping-kun and Beijing’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin in Chongqing, China, since the opposition Democratic Progressive Party holds only 33 of the Legislature’s 112 seats.

Nevertheless, there are already indications that article by article review of the ECFA pact would have been the wiser course as the hastily negotiated accord will inevitably face intensive pressure for renegotiation, as did the "beef protocol" signed between Taipei and Washington last year.

For example, the "Cross-Strait Agreement Monitoring Alliance, composed of civic reform and social movement groups with a wide range of political standpoints, issued a lengthy list of problems Wednesday from the standpoint of protecting Taiwan’s democratic governance and fundamental economic, social and environmental standards.

First and foremost, the civic alliance called for the elimination of Article 11, which sets up a "joint cross-strait economic cooperation commission" with the PRC embodied with the powers negotiate follow-on agreements without direct Legislative authorization or ratification.

The civic alliance warns that the arrangement tramples on several articles of the Constitution by by effectively transferring part of Taiwan’s government power to a "cross-strait" commission formed by non-official bodies and beyond the scope of legal accountability or legislative or citizen monitoring.

Moreover, alliance spokespersons noted the statute for cross-strait relations promulgated in 1992 and revised in 2002 only mandated a role to the SEF to manage and negotiate on "pragmatic" or "technical" issues with its PRC counterpart and did not envision authorization to a non-governmental organization to negotiate major treaties or to be "delegated" powers of government on a permanent basis beyond the scope of direct Legislative authorization and review.

In addition, the civic alliance called for the legislation of a distinct law to govern the authorization, negotiation and ratification of agreements with the PRC and incorporate abundant mechanisms for civic dialogue and participation.

Second, the civic alliance called for the insertion of clauses into the ECFA that explicitly stated that the pact’s implementation will not undermine human rights, environmental protection, labor rights and gender equality standards.

Such "green" and "blue" clauses are increasingly incorporated directly into the preambles or as distinct clauses in FTAs, including the 2003 FTA between the PRC and New Zealand and Taiwan’s own FTA with Panama.

The failure of Taiwan negotiators to demand (or perhaps even propose) such clauses was manifestly irresponsible given the yawning gap between the two sides in legal human rights, environmental protection and labor standards, not to mention the repression by the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party regime of autonomous trade unionism.

Besides the question of ensuring the compliance of PRC companies operating in Taiwan with our national labor rights and environmental protection laws, there is huge potential for "social dumping" of PRC goods due to lower production costs arising from lower official standards, on the Taiwan market.

This phenomenon could inflict grave damage on local businesses, reduce domestic employment opportunities, exacerbate income inequalities and put pressure on labor and environmental standards at home.

Moreover, the civic alliance called for explicit construction of effective legal firewalls to ensure protection for the personal computerized data of Taiwan citizens from access by PRC companies, especially banks and other financial institutions.

Moreover, the civic alliance urged the Ma administration that the transfer of dispute resolution mechanisms to the ECFA "cooperation commission" threatened to abandon the hard-won protection afforded by Taiwan’s membership in the World Trade Organization, in which Taiwan, under the name of "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" is on an equal footing with the PRC.

Last but not least, both the alliance of civic organizations called Thursday for the Legislative Yuan to utilize Article 16 of the Referendum Law and resolve itself that the ECFA be submitted to Taiwan’s citizenry for ratification by national citizen referendum.

These lacunae are sufficient to indicate that renegotiation of the pact will take place either now before it takes effect or after, when its shortcomings have already caused harm to our society and economy and when the political cost of renegotiation will be much higher.

The best course for the Ma government would be to, for once, "do it right the first time" and avoid the stiff political costs of refusing to adjust to the norms of Taiwan’s democratic society by allowing a full legislative debate, accept and renegotiate needed changes and agree to submit the ECFA to citizen ratification to ensure democratic legitimacy.

Whether the KMT government is capable of transcending its narrow ideological blinders and partisan interests and exercising such political wisdom will be shown by its actions next week.

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source: Taiwan News