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President Ma attends National Conference on Trade and Economic Affairs

On the morning of July 28, President Ma Ying-jeou attended the National Conference on Trade and Economic Affairs. He instructed his administrative team to turn the points of consensus reached during the conference into a concrete action plan, to adopt a timetable and a budget, and to closely monitor the implementation of the plan. The president also expressed hope that the ruling and opposition camps will put aside their differences for the time being to jointly find pragmatic and viable strategies in pursuit of the greater good.

In remarks, President Ma acknowledged that the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement has triggered misunderstandings and controversy over the past year, but said that despite the disturbances, it has also highlighted a pluralism and public-spiritedness in Taiwanese society, and reflected strong concern and high expectations regarding Taiwan's future. In particular, he commented, in the face of intense international competition, the nation cannot lose momentum, so questions about how to seek common ground while respecting differences, and how to forge consensus and turn the energy of civil society into a force for national progress, are matters that deserve the entire nation's serious attention. Addressing these questions, he added, was the primary reason for holding the National Conference on Trade and Economic Affairs.

President Ma stated that the three-day National Conference on Trade and Economic Affairs was preceded by four advisory conferences, as well as regional conferences in the northern, central, southern, and eastern areas of Taiwan. Now, he said, participants at the national conference have forged consensus on two major topics: "Taiwan's strategies for economic development under globalization"; and "cross-strait trade and Taiwan's strategies for regional economic integration."

As for the first topic—Taiwan's strategies for economic development under globalization, President Ma stated, conference attendees had already reached a high level of consensus that Taiwan must pursue the path of liberalization and internationalization. In addition, he said, participants also showed strong confidence in Taiwan's economic strength as it faces competition brought about by globalization. President Ma noted that quite a few delegates had commented that globalization can lead to stagnation of salaries, expanded wealth inequality, and an uncertain future for youth. While conference participants had differing viewpoints, the president said, they all were working with the best interests of the nation in mind. The effort to create a substantive and viable body of shared opinion highlighted the patriotism of those at the meeting, and is a model for democracy, he commented.

President Ma further noted that in response to the challenges brought about by globalization, the participants suggested that the government hasten its pursuit of liberalization and stay abreast of the latest global industrial trends in order to strengthen industrial competitiveness. At the same time, he said, they urged the government to emphasize local characteristics, strengthen industrial development at the local level, and work with social businesses to reduce the impact of globalization on weaker sectors so the entire public can share in the benefits of liberalization. In addition, the participants also stated that the government should listen to the voices of youth and formulate new ways to help young people get educated, then start businesses, and develop their careers, he said. The delegates also agreed that the government should formulate a comprehensive plan to assist youth, and also carry out effective reviews of the conference consensuses to ensure their implementation. This should serve as an important basis for future policies, the president said.

As for the topic of cross-strait trade and Taiwan's strategies for regional economic integration, President Ma said, the Asia-Pacific region is presently moving ahead with economic integration faster than any other region in the world. He pointed out that negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should be completed this year and next year. In other words, the president said, the coming two years will determine whether Taiwan joins in economic and trade integration in the Asia-Pacific. He also stated that mainland China and Korea intend to complete free trade agreement negotiations before the end of this year, which means that time is no longer on our side.

The president emphasized that even though Taiwan cannot prevent mainland China and Korea from signing a free trade agreement, its impact on Taiwan can be reduced and Taiwan can gradually catch up in the race toward regional economic integration if all sectors of society come together, practical adjustments are made to the nation's economic structure, and Taiwan expands its participation in the international community.

President Ma mentioned that many people at the conference expressed concern that "internationalization" would ultimately become "mainlandization," which would cause Taiwan to lose its economic and cultural autonomy. These people, he said, hope the government will explain its road map for promoting economic or trade agreements with other nations. They also hope that by opening to the world and joining in regional economic integration, Taiwan can expand its economic development, the president remarked.

As for cross-strait economic and trade ties, President Ma noted, most participants at the conference support speedy passage of the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, along with the completion of negotiations in the Cross-Strait Trade in Goods Agreement, as a means to respond to the keen competition caused by regional economic integration. In addition, he stated, participants also recommended that the Legislative Yuan quickly finish deliberations on the Cross-Strait Agreement Supervisory Act, and they urged administrative agencies to establish a transparent and effective management mechanism for cross-strait ties to ensure the economic and cultural autonomy of Taiwan. In other words, the delegates to the conference hope to pragmatically engage in cross-strait economic and trade agreements in a way that "maximizes opportunities and minimizes risks," he said, adding that this should hasten Taiwan's involvement in regional economic and trade integration and expedite its effort to get in step with international practices.

President Ma further stated that a recent public opinion poll by the Executive Yuan's Mainland Affairs Council indicated that 63% of the public supports passage of the Cross-Strait Agreement Supervisory Act. In addition, a recent opinion poll by the National Development Council showed that in the three months after the student movement in March of this year, public support for the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services has steadily increased, and the support now outweighs opposition, he said. This shows that the conclusions reached at this conference largely are in line with the viewpoints of the public, the president stated.

President Ma stressed that liberalization and internationalization are bound to impact Taiwan's economy and society. However, Taiwan should not reject or avoid such challenges, but meet them head-on, he said. The president stated that the government has adopted concrete measures to assist, support, and provide relief to industries that suffer from the steps that will be taken. It will also review tax and social welfare policies in order to reduce the blow to various sectors and maintain social fairness and justice, the president noted.

President Ma said he feels that the holding of this conference created a good model for the making of public policy. It provided a platform for public dialogue, and also made use of technology and Internet social groups. Live webcasts and discussions on the Internet helped expand participation in the conference, he said, adding that this enabled diverse opinions from all sectors of society to be considered. President Ma also remarked that the innovative "youth debate contest" and the "World Cafe" participation models enabled the government to understand the views of the younger generation. The president stated that the government will factor the opinions of youth into its policy decisions. This highlights the respect of administrative agencies for those who participated in the student movement in March, he remarked.

President Ma said he deeply hopes that, as Taiwan faces issues with life-or-death economic consequences, groups in both the ruling and opposition camps will for the time being put aside their differences and, with the best interests of the people of Taiwan in mind, work together to find pragmatic and viable strategies going forward. The president acknowledged that Taiwan faces steep challenges with respect to the global economy and that the nation has limited cards in its hand. Consequently, it doesn't have any more time for internecine strife, he said, adding that Taiwan has no time to squander and cannot afford to hesitate. Only if Taiwan pulls together can it find a viable route forward, he commented. President Ma stated his hope that all sectors of society will use the points of consensus reached at this conference as a foundation to work together to maximize wellbeing for the people of Taiwan.

【Source: Office of the President】