As Taiwan makes plans to pursue membership in the nascent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade grouping, government officials are mindful that the 2014 student-led Sunflower Movement – whose impact has continued to keep the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) in abeyance – has changed public expectations toward the way trade agreements should be handled. Much of the criticism of the CSSTA appeared to stem from perceived deficiencies in transparency and public communication.
Based on that experience, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has undertaken a new approach as it seeks to develop broad domestic support for TPP. In January, the Ministry created a TPP Communication Projects Office (TPPCPO) to help explain the government’s TPP-related policies to relevant stakeholders and to solicit their feedback. According to TPPCPO, the office will serve as “MOEA’s first point of contact for researching, gathering, and analyzing public opinion, which will provide the input for planning an integrated communications campaign addressing specific concerns on all fronts.”
In a departure from previous practice, management of the office and supply of nearly all of its staff was outsourced to a private company, S.C. Communications Integrated Marketing, through an open bid. “Government officials may be expert at making policy and preparing documents, but we don’t have the needed expertise in marketing and communication,” says Tsai Li-juan, a counselor at MOEA who has been assigned to oversee TPPCPO as the only civil servant directly involved.
In addition, the private Taiwan Institute of Economic Research is providing support to the project in terms of planning and advice, especially regarding interaction with industrial sectors.
TPPCPO’s work plan is to focus primarily on the following counterparts:
- Industry representatives. Teams from TPPCPO have started visiting industry associations and other organizations representing such sectors as manufacturing, services, agriculture, e-commerce, and small and medium enterprises to discuss the potential impact on individual sectors and how the government can offer adjustment assistance to those adversely affected.
- Local governments. Visits are also being made to city and county officials around the island, who are well-positioned to offer information and advice on local conditions.
- Internet users. The government is well aware that more and more people are relying on online and mobile communications for their information. TPPCPO plans to make effective use of social media and other new-media channels.
- University students. Trade negotiators will visit campuses to engage in small-group discussions as well as to give classroom presentations.
TPPCPO hopes that the various activities will also generate media coverage to reach the general public with the message that TPP membership is important for Taiwan economically and strategically, and that the government is being open and transparent in pursuit of that goal.