The first major focus of Chen's administration has been to improve cooperation between parties, particularly in weeding out corruption and reforming the economy. In August 2001, Chen convened the Economic Development Advisory Conference, a mulitpartisan economic meeting to discuss the national economic vision. A total of 322 points of consensus were achieved. As a result of the meeting, Chen was also able to form a "government reengineering committee," to work toward restructuring government organizations in order to increase national competitiveness.
As a new member of the World Trade Organization, Taiwan was compelled to open up is markets. This had stressful effects on the agricultural sector, provoking a mass demonstration of farmers and fishermen in Taipei in Novmber 2002, at a time when Chen's approval rating had plunged to just 36%. Another domestic crisis was the arrival of the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Taiwan. In May 2003, the World Health Organization declared Taiwan a SARS danger zone. A hospital in Taipei was closed down amid charges there had been a cover-up regarding infection of its staff. SARS cases were reported throughout the island. The government considered an island-wide ten-day SARS control quarantine, despite potential damage to the economy.