Ma Ying-jeou vows to kick-start Taiwanese economy in new year

Leader calls on opposition to help approve stalled mainland trade pact

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 2:52am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 2:58am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou pledged yesterday to put the economy at the top of his agenda in 2014 and called on the legislature to quickly approve a services trade pact with the mainland.

"This administration's top priority is to do all that can be done to achieve economic growth," Ma said.

Ma is seeking to repair his approval ratings as he leads the Kuomintang into elections for the mayors of the capital Taipei and six other cities this year. His popularity fell to a record low last year after the economy slowed and he failed to oust the legislative speaker.

In November, Taiwan trimmed its 2013 growth forecast to 1.74 per cent from 2.31 per cent as exports and industrial production slowed.

Ma said yesterday his administration would revive the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship, public investment, urban renewal and better land use.

He also called for the ruling and opposition parties to work together to pass bills that would spur economic development. The delayed ratification of the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement has made Taiwan's trading partners less willing to sign deals, Ma said. His 27-minute speech did not touch on more difficult cross-strait issues.

Liu Guoshen , head of Xiamen University's Taiwan Research Institute, said Beijing and Taipei would focus on economic and cultural ties in 2014 and possibly set aside sensitive issues, such as a meeting between Ma and President Xi Jinping . "For the mainland, it wants to ensure that such a meeting will enhance the relationship with Taiwan and it does not want the relationship to be affected after the talks," Liu said.

Ma did not escape the flag-raising ceremony unscathed. As he walked off the stage, the event's presenter, actress Liu Hsiang-tzu, surprised the crowd by announcing: "Our president is stepping down." Liu, who was hosting a political event for the first time, said later she would be more cautious with her words if she is again asked to serve as a master of the ceremonies.