FACE TO FACE: Negotiators from the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and the Straits Exchange Foundation hold preliminary consultation in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, before top leaders of the two organizations met in December 2009 (ZHANG GUOJUN)
The mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) signed the long-awaited Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in southwest China's Chongqing on June 29.
The ECFA is a special arrangement for the normalization, institutionalization and liberalization of cross-Straits economic cooperative activities. Its signing is the result of the ever expanding trade exchanges between the mainland and Taiwan.
The idea of reaching a cross-Straits economic pact has been considered for a long time.
Early in January 2002, Vice Premier Qian Qichen talked about the idea of a regime for mainland-Taiwan economic cooperation for the first time at a meeting in commemoration of the seventh anniversary of President Jiang Zemin's speech, entitled "Continuing to Strive Toward the Reunification of China." In the speech Jiang put forward eight proposals on the development of relations between the two sides across the Taiwan Straits, also called "eight-point proposal."
In April 2005, Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, and Lien Chan, Chairman of the Kuomintang in Taiwan, jointly issued the Common Aspiration and Prospects for Cross-Straits Peace and Development in Beijing. In the document, they proposed to jointly promote all-around economic exchanges between the mainland and Taiwan and establish a cross-Straits economic cooperation mechanism.
On December 31, 2008, Hu delivered a speech at a meeting in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan issued by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in 1979, in which he expressed hopes for the normalization of cross-Straits economic ties and institutionalization of bilateral economic cooperation so as to consolidate the material basis for the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Straits and give it a more powerful economic influence. Hu said the mainland and Taiwan should talk about a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement to establish a cooperation mechanism, which would be complementary and mutually beneficial to both sides.
During an interview with Era News, a cable news channel operated by Era Television in Taiwan, on February 27, 2009, Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou said Taiwan would negotiate with the mainland to sign the ECFA. Since then, Taiwan authorities started making preparations for negotiations.
In December 2009, top leaders of the ARATS and the SEF held their fourth talks since June 2008 in Taichung, Taiwan, and exchanged views on negotiating and signing the ECFA. They also agreed to focus on the topic in their fifth talks scheduled for June 2010.
After the meeting, the two organizations conducted negotiations following the principle of, "easy things first, seeking common ground while reserving differences, proceeding in an orderly way step by step and advancing actively but reliably."
Experts from the ARATS and the SEF held the first round of talks on the ECFA in Beijing on January 26, 2010. The two sides exchanged ideas and reached consensus on topics including the name and basic structure of the agreement and the establishment of a negotiation mechanism.
A statement of the meeting said the two sides agreed that the ECFA will promote the mainland and Taiwan to deepen economic cooperation, jointly tackle the challenges brought about by the international financial crisis as well as fierce international economic competition and set up an economic cooperation mechanism of cross-Straits characteristics. The ECFA will benefit people on both sides, said the statement.
The second round of expert-level talks between the ARATS and the SEF was convened in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, from March 30 to April 1, 2010. The two sides exchanged views on the "early harvest program" on trade in goods and services, the basic text of the ECFA and arrangement for future consultations.
During their third round of talks held in June 2010 in Beijing, experts from the ARATS and SEF discussed the content and the five attachments of the ECFA—and made significant progress.