Deepening China-Taiwan Relations through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement

Daniel H. Rosen (PIIE) and Zhi Wang (US International Trade Commission)
Policy Brief
10-16
June 2010
The Implications of China-Taiwan Economic Liberalization

This policy brief is based in part on the author's forthcoming book The Implications of China-Taiwan Economic Liberalization.

On June 13, 2010, representatives from China and Taiwan held a third round of talks in Beijing on an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that would liberalize important aspects of cross-Strait economic relations. It is clear from available details that ECFA will be an ambitious accord that fundamentally changes the game between Taiwan and China and hence affects the regional economy and even the transpacific tempo for the United States. Rosen and Wang's economic projections of the effects of a China-Taiwan ECFA point to significant benefits of cross-Strait economic reform, especially for Taiwan, which would increase its 2020 GDP by about 4.5 percent, or $21 billion, from the current trend line. The authors, however, also conclude that the regional economy around China and Taiwan is not standing still but is extraordinarily dynamic. Other agreements in the region will be negotiated (e.g., ASEAN+3), which will impose costs on Taiwan, if it does not do an ECFA, to the tune of almost -0.8 percent of GDP. So the net effect of ECFA for Taiwan would be some 5.3 percent improvement in GDP by 2020. For China, the net results of ECFA are positive, though far less so than for Taiwan in value terms and of course as a share of GDP.

For the United States, the authors project a very modest positive result from ECFA (though statistically marginal) but a more negative impact as the scenarios incorporating further Asian integration (ASEAN + 3) unfold. If the US objective is to maximize Taiwan's economic prospects and hence its freedom of independent action, then ECFA is highly desirable, and Taiwan's involvement in further Asian deepening is to be supported. However, US economic interests per se erode as Asia draws tighter together without US inclusion. That is an econometric reality. More significant still is the geoeconomic, qualitative implication of even long-standing nemeses China and Taiwan drawing together in a free trade pact while the United States watches, unable to ratify already negotiated Asian trade agreements like the US-Korea free trade agreement. While modest in global economic effects, the geoeconomic implications of a China-Taiwan economic pact are significant enough to demand strategic attention from the United States and underscore the importance of securing US economic engagement of the first order in Asia.