Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has no plans to slow down the island's policy of enhancing economic ties with Beijing, and has vowed to press ahead with free-trade talks with the mainland despite his party's setback in local elections. 'If we can have a breakthrough in our ECFA [talks] with mainland China, other countries will be more willing to carry out similar negotiations with us, and this is very important to Taiwan,' Ma said in a meeting with businesspeople yesterday. He was referring to the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, a free-trade pact Taiwan hopes to sign with the mainland next year, but which has been criticised by the pro-independence camp as Ma's bid to sell out the island to Beijing. Ma said that while many countries had signed free-trade agreements with each other, Taiwan had been left out chiefly because it had been isolated diplomatically. 'If we cannot overcome this problem, it will have a huge negative impact on Taiwan's trade in the future,' he said of Taiwan's export-oriented economy. The value of its exports accounts for 64 per cent of the island's gross domestic product. To head off public concern over the possible harmful impact of the free-trade agreement on Taiwan, Ma said he would see that all negotiations with the mainland were highly transparent and that relevant authorities held public hearings and seminars to increase understanding about the benefits of the deal. He promised that his government would fully defend the interests of the island and would not do anything that would hurt Taiwan's agriculture and farmers, as opposition critics have insisted the deal would. Dr Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, the major opposition group that opposes the pact, yesterday criticised Ma for failing to heed the public's voice despite the Kuomintang's setback in Saturday's local elections. The KMT failed to hold on to its 13 local government posts in the polls, losing a key constituency - the northeastern county of Ilan - to the DPP and suffering a humiliating loss in the eastern county of Hualien, where a KMT turncoat trumped the KMT candidate to win the magistrate post. The DPP, in addition to holding on to its three local top posts and winning an extra post in Ilan, closed the gap of the winning percentage, receiving 45 per cent of total votes cast, compared with KMT's 47 per cent.