Taipei (AsiaNews) - China and Taiwan signed a new trade agreement today that covers the service sector. According to officials from both sides, the new pact will bring new jobs to the mainland and Taiwan. Despite opposition protests on the island, rapprochement between the two countries continues.
Today's signing is another key step forward in accordance of a framework agreement signed on 29 June 2010, known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA, 海峡 两岸 经济 合作 架构 协议), which created an area of preferential trade between the island and the mainland. This has offered Taiwan numerous benefits in the Chinese market whilst constituting a necessary step Taipei must had to take to secure international trade agreements, something possible only with Beijing's consent.
The agreement covers the service sector, which currently accounts for more than 70 percent of Taiwan's GDP. For the first time, services also exceed manufacturing in mainland China (according to data for the first quarter of this year).
"But there is still significant room for growth in this sector," said yesterday Lin Join-sane (林中森), president of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF, 海峡 交流 基金会), "because the percentage of the service sector especially on the mainland remains low when compared with more advanced countries. For this, we need modernisation and creation of new jobs in this area."
Chen Deming (陈德铭), director of the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS, 海峡 两岸 关系 协会), SEF's mainland counterpart, said that this new agreement "is another key step in making more effective the ECFA agreement."
SEF and ARATS are "quasi-official" bodies that manage Straits relations, authorised by their respective governments in the absence of official ties.
Cooperation to avoid double taxation, weather studies, seismic activity monitoring and natural disaster prevention are other important fields that come under joint agreements.
Cross-strait relations have improved after Ma Ying-jeou (马英九) became president of Taiwan (2008) and inaugurated a policy of dialogue with Beijing.
Since then, the integration between the mainland and the island has deepened. Some 19 non-political cooperation agreements have been signed.
In Taiwan, the opposition came out strongly against today's deal, accusing President Ma Ying-jeou and his government of not revealing "important points of the negotiations" and wanting to sign agreements without the express consent of voters.
During the morning, two national television channels gave extensive coverage to a live press conference in Taipei by the opposition forces.
Lin Chun-hsien (林俊宪), a spokesman for the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party, 民主 进步 党), pointed out that no one knows the exact contents of the agreement or the consequences it will have on local industries.
In an attempt to appease naysayers about the contents of the agreement signed today, a seminar was organised earlier in the week by the Taiwan Coalition of Service Industries (CSI 台湾 服务业 联盟) and the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of China (ROCCOC, 全 国 商业 总会), with various service industry companies, like the Bank of Taiwan (台湾 银行) and the popular web portal PChome, represented.
Event organisers indicated that as China is strongly expanding its service industry, Taiwan is poised to benefit tremendously from the agreement.
Since China is such a huge market, the reduction of the limits on ownership and rapid approval of applications for operating licenses put Taiwanese companies at an advantage against Japanese and South Korea competition.
In connection with cross-strait relations, a second important topic was recently announced, namely the opening of representative offices in Taipei and the mainland.
On 6 February, at a press conference, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Minister (行政院 大陆 委员会 主任 委员) Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) had said that he planned to submit to Parliament (立法院) a bill to set up offices on both sides of the strait.
Yesterday morning, President Ma Ying-jeou said that the two sides needed such offices to manage 8 million people who cross the strait each year and US$ 160 billion in trade.
For him, it would be unimaginable that two political entities with such a great level of trade do not have representative offices.