The future of ECFA rests with the DPP authorities’ policies

File photo shows a freighter loaded with goods at a port in Kaohsiung, southeast China’s Taiwan. /Xinhua

File photo shows a freighter loaded with goods at a port in Kaohsiung, southeast China’s Taiwan. /Xinhua

Editor’s note: Zhou Wenxing, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is assistant professor at the School of International Studies, Nanjing University. He writes extensively on comparative politics and international relations, with an emphasis on the Taiwan question and China-U.S. relations. The article reflects the author’s opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

According to the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council, the Chinese mainland, in response to China’s Taiwan region’s trade restrictions, will halt tariff concessions starting on June 15, 2024, for some of Taiwan’s products enjoying preferential tariff rates stipulated in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). In a subsequent press conference on May 31, Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, voiced support for the decision and explained the motivations behind it.

The first is an economic consideration. The economic and trade relationship between the two sides across the Taiwan Straits is currently not balanced. And, as Chen claimed, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities should take primary responsibility for that.

Since the “Early Harvest Program” under the ECFA was fully implemented on January 1, 2011, the economic and trade exchanges between the two sides have continued to expand, which have greatly promoted cross-Straits economic development. The cross-Straits trade volume has more than doubled in the past decade, rising from $145.4 billion in 2010 to $319.7 billion in 2022.

As a comprehensive economic pact, the ECFA has particularly boosted the economic development of Taiwan. According to some recent statistics issued by the Taiwan authorities, for example, the total amount of tariff reductions obtained by the island under the ECFA from 2011 to the end of 2023 reached more than $10.1 billion, while that obtained by the mainland from the island in the same period was less than $1.1 billion. The export of the island’s products to the mainland has been maintaining a momentum of rapid growth.

It’s clear that Taiwan enjoys a much more advantageous position vis-à-vis the mainland in its economic ties. The main reason lies in the fact that the Chinese mainland has taken a series of preferential measures towards the Taiwan region in terms of economy and trade over the past decade.

File photo shows the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China’s Taiwan. /CFP

File photo shows the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China’s Taiwan. /CFP

On the other hand, since Tsai Ing-wen became the leader of the DPP authorities in 2016, Taiwan has not only failed to fulfill its obligations under the ECFA, but has gradually been imposing unilateral and discriminatory trade restrictions and bans on goods imported from the mainland. There is no doubt that these restrictions breached the ECFA, damaging the interests of industrial communities and the well-being of compatriots on both sides of the Straits.

In this context, at the request of some representatives of relevant industries on the mainland in April 2023, the Ministry of Commerce conducted a trade barrier investigation on the relevant measures to prohibit the import of mainland products to the Taiwan region. It found that the Taiwan authorities implemented a ban on the import of more than 2,500 products from the mainland.

As a countermeasure to the DPP authorities’ failure to implement the relevant spirit of the ECFA, the mainland announced in December 2023 the suspension of ECFA tariff rates for 12 products from Taiwan, including propylene and paraxylene, which took effect on January 1, 2024. The DPP authorities, however, did not reflect on the wrongdoings they made; on the contrary, they resorted to greater efforts to obstruct normal cross-Straits economic exchanges and cooperation.

A more critical consideration behind the halting of tariff concessions is due to the DPP authorities’ refusing to recognize the 1992 Consensus that embodies the one-China principle. This is the political foundation for both sides signing the ECFA in 2010. And it is precisely because of this shared political consensus that the following decade witnessed the rapid development of cross-Straits economic and trade relations. But the new regional leader Lai Ching-te’s more aggressive separatist policy will very likely lead the ECFA to an uncertain trajectory.

In a nutshell, the future of the ECFA will be determined by the DPP authorities’ policies. They should first take concrete measures, such as lifting discriminatory trade restrictions against mainland products. More crucially, they must stop their unrealistically separatist attempts.

Only by implementing these pragmatic measures can the Taiwan authorities embrace a bright future, truly demonstrating that they are working for the welfare of people in Taiwan and for stability and peace across the Straits.

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