The trade agreement (link in Chinese; h/t Ketagalan Media) was signed on June 21, 2013 between the leaders of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), which manage the "unofficial" relationship between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. The agreement follows the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) successfully concluded and ratified by the legislature in 2010 during Ma Ying-jeou's first term. The services agreement would would open up some of Taiwan's services industries, notably its financial sector, to mainland Chinese investment, and vise versa.
The Legislative Yuan: Where Presidential Priorities Go to Die?
The services agreement is the top legislative priority of the Ma Ying-jeou administration, but it has faced determined opposition from the DPP, which has been attempting to block the bill in the Legislative Yuan. Since the KMT controls a majority in the legislature (64/113, or 57%, to the DPP’s 40/113 or 35%), the DPP would lose a straight-up party-line vote. So instead, the party has tried to keep the agreement off the legislative agenda, bottle it up in committee, and otherwise slow down the legislative process using whatever tactics it can, in hopes that the political dynamics will eventually shift in its favor. By stalling, the pact may become increasingly unpopular among the public and soften support from KMT legislators enough to put in doubt its final passage.
So far, this strategy has worked surprisingly well. In contrast to the ECFA, which passed the legislature less than two months after it was signed, the services agreement has languished. When the agreement was signed in June, there was some question about whether it even had to be approved by the legislature to take effect--because the agreement does not require any amendments to laws or new legislation, it could be treated as an executive regulation under Article 5 of the Cross-Strait Relations Act (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), in which case it comes into effect 90 days after legislative review commences.
Given how controversial the pact was, and the concerns expressed by lawmakers not only from the pan-greens but from the KMT and PFP as well, the Ma administration had little choice but to submit the agreement to the legislature and hold a formal vote. Rather than an expedited review and an up-or-down vote on the agreement as a single package, as Ma had wanted, Speaker Wang Jin-pyng quickly negotiated a cross-party agreement* to conduct an item-by-item review, which ensured that the services trade agreement not only would have to win legislative approval but also be subject to an extended and acrimonious set of politically damaging hearings and votes. (Incidentally, this probably was the main reason President Ma attempted unsuccessfully to purge Speaker Wang from the KMT and force him out of the legislature in September.)
In September the bill was referred to the Internal Administration Committee, which scheduled 16 separate hearings lasting until March 10. With KMT legislative leaders threatening to push for an extra session in January to bring the bill to the floor, Wang Jin-pyng negotiated another cross-party agreement to postpone the review process until after March 10, when the last hearing was scheduled to take place.
The Latest Maneuvering
On March 7, the DPP played its next card. The DPP convening member on the Internal Administration Committee, Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), unexpectedly scheduled a formal review of the agreement to take place in the committee the next week. According to legislative precedent, the convener who places the item on the agenda for the first time is allowed to chair the review; thus, the DPP was now in control of the committee's proceedings. The KMT caucus cried foul, complaining that because they had already conceded to an extensive set of hearings and line-item roll-call votes, the DPP should not have attempted to seize the committee chair as well; the KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) also argued that since the bill was initiated by the KMT, by rights its convener, the KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠), should chair the review.
That set up a battle to establish control over the chairman's seat. Several DPP members camped out overnight in the meeting room, and as legislative clerks tried to add legislators' names to a sign-in sheet to speak on the morning of March 12, verbal and then physical altercations broke out. The committee meeting descended into shouting matches and a prolonged standoff between KMT and DPP legislators, and it was eventually adjourned without ever having begun. The next day's committee proceedings immediately broke down as well. When the committee reconvened on Monday, March 17, the dysfunction continued. Pan-green legislators physically occupied the meeting room's podium to prevent Chang Ching-chung from calling the meeting to order, and after three hours he called off the meeting and unilaterally declared that the services pact had cleared the committee and would go to the legislative floor for a second reading. He justified that action by arguing that the review of the agreement had not been completed by the committee within the required 90 days.
The DPP claimed Chang's action violated the previous cross-party agreement to allow a full committee review of the pact, and in response the party's members boycotted the legislature's plenary session on Tuesday, forcing adjournment and a return to the cross-party negotiation committee (政黨協商) headed by Speaker Wang.* The students' occupation of the legislative floor beginning Tuesday night means that the bill's consideration is stalled for the moment, although the KMT continues to threaten that the Executive Yuan could simply declare the agreement in effect as an executive regulation, bypassing the legislative process altogether as the Ma administration hoped to do back in June.
*[As an aside, one of the interesting aspects of this process is how it illustrates the importance of Speaker Wang and the Cross-Party Negotiation Committee, or 政黨協商, to the effective functioning of the legislature. None of the news reports I have seen emphasize just how difficult it has been for the KMT to get bills passed in the LY without first having a cross-party agreement. The DPP's ability to cause chaos and effectively prevent the legislature from conducting business--akin to a filibuster--gives it a veto over legislation despite the KMT's comfortable majority. This is a feature of Taiwan's legislature that deserves a lot more attention than it is getting in the English-language media.]