Critics slam cross-strait pact as bad for Taiwan economy, society

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 11:13am

The pact to open up trade in services signed last week by Taiwan and the mainland has met with strong opposition in some quarters on the island. Critics say it will harm local businesses.

Under the agreement, 80 mainland service sectors will be open to investment from Taiwan and 64 Taiwanese service sectors will be open to investment from the mainland. The sectors include finance, travel, traditional Chinese medicine, telecommunications, information technology, construction and publishing.

The agreement is a follow-up to a 2010 trade-liberalisation pact, the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA). It was signed on Friday by Lin Join-sane, chairman of the Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation, and his counterpart Chen Deming , president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.

As part of the agreement, mainland investors in a service trade and up to two "cadres" - technicians or executives - will be allowed to come to Taiwan on an investor visa if their investments exceed US$300,000. For each additional US$500,000, another cadre is allowed into Taiwan, up to a maximum of seven.

Taiwanese media reaction to news of the agreement was negative. The Taipei-based Liberty Times condemned it in an editorial, arguing that the initial US$300,000 required to obtain an investor visa could be an advance loan, potentially giving mainlanders a chance to "settle in Taiwan nearly free of charge".

"For a typical 'one child' Chinese family," the editorial said, "it seems that as long as you have US$300,000 the father [head investor] mother [cadre number one] and child [cadre number two] can all go to Taiwan as disguised immigrants."

The paper said this arrangement was "much lower than … Europe's investment immigration provisions", citing Britain's requirement of at least £1 million to obtain an investor visa, £750,000 of which must be invested in private companies or unit trusts.

Hong Kong has a similar investor visa programme - the capital investment entrant scheme (CIES) - which requires HK$10 million from each investor and, for mainland applicants, permanent residency in a third country.

On the mainland, though, the reaction to the news was different. "We should all invest in Taiwan real estate," one Sina Weibo user posted. "The time to make a fortune has come."

Linda Chang, chief of Taiwan's Information and Protocol Section of the Mainland Affairs Council, said Taiwan's investor visa requirements were similar to those of other countries. She said investors who come to Taiwan under the new agreement would not be considered immigrants.

"They are not immigrants, and can never enjoy all rights and other welfare or benefits entitled by Taiwanese nationals," Chang added. "Nor can they work for other companies or employers. This applies to all overseas or foreign investors who are allowed to invest in certain businesses or service trade in Taiwan."

Opponents of the agreement have also argued that neither the Taiwanese government nor the island's services industry are prepared to deal with the influx of mainland workers and businesses that will surely come to the island. Civic groups rallied outside the Taipei offices of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan on Monday, demanding that the agreement not be validated until given a de facto review.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was also vocal in its criticism. Former DPP chairwoman Dr Tsai Ing-wen, who ran for the Taiwan presidency in 2012 but was defeated by Kuomintang incumbent Ma Ying-jeou, issued a statement on Monday condemning the agreement as "socially unacceptable". In a post on her official Facebook page that has now attracted over 20,000 "likes", she urged Taiwan's government to renegotiate with Beijing.

"The signing procedures for this cross-strait trade agreement were entirely done behind closed doors without any evaluation of public opinion," Tsai said. "In the future mainland companies will seek to enter Taiwan and control key industries and business livelihoods … while mainland businesses will attract Taiwan service industries … This may cause a brain drain that will affect Taiwan industries and encumber the local economy."

Many commentators agreed with her. "Taiwan's resources and financial power are limited," one wrote.

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung in Taipei