Taiwan mulls cross-Straits pact

08:36, April 26, 2010      

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Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou Sunday outperformed his main opposition counterpart Tsai Ing-wen in a televised debate over a major trade pact with the Chinese mainland, a simultaneous opinion poll by a local newspaper indicated, marking a step further toward the prospect of signing the deal that would slash tariffs.

The debate, unprecedented in Taiwan, is expected to sway public opinion toward the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) set to be signed with the mainland in June.

"If we don't close this deal, what else can we do? The rest of Asia is forming alliances," Ma said, stressing the significance of such a trade pact, as he argued that it would prevent the economy from being marginalized at a time when regional trade barriers are threatening its economic development.

"Should Taiwan remain locked away or open up?" he asked. "As the rest of Asia builds alliances, we and North Korea will be eliminated and become Asia's orphaned birds."

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman Tsai fired back by saying the process of signing the ECFA is not transparent and by accusing the mainland of having a "political purpose" for the deal.

"Over three quarters of Taiwanese have no awareness of the content of the ECFA," Tsai argued, citing an "early harvest" list covering products to receive immediate tariff concessions.

The pact will cover major economic activities across the Taiwan Straits, including market access for the trade of commodities and services, rules of origin, an early harvest program, trade remedies, dispute settlement, investment and economic cooperation.

Tsai argued that the treaty could bring great harm for local Taiwan businesses and farmers, while her opinions were shot down by Ma.

More than 1,000 Web users participated in an survey by the Taipei-based China Times, in which 67.1 percent of respondents insisted that Ma had apparently won the debate, despite 29.6 percent of respondents believing Tsai performed better.

Ma's public opinion polls have dropped since mid-2009 over internal issues on the island, as Tsai's party has picked up seats in "legislative by-elections."

"It's the first time I've witnessed such a fierce debate

between leaders here," said Lin Kuhua, a tea dealer in Taipei, who watched the debate Sunday.
"You can hardly judge who will win the debate. But if anything, I believe it could be conducive for people to understand both the advantages and disadvantages of signing the pact with the mainland," Lin told the Global Times.

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