Sat, Nov 24, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Tobacco industry might go up in smoke with WTO

CNA , KAOHSIUNG

A man takes a cigarette break from campaigning. The tobacco industry could be hit hard by the WTO.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's tobacco industry is expected to diminish substantially in the wake of the nation's accession to the WTO, officials from the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Board (TTWB, 公賣局) said yesterday.

The extent of Taiwan's tobacco fields, scattered mainly in Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties in southern Taiwan and Hualien County in eastern Taiwan, is predicted to drop to a mere 900 hectares next year, the first year of Taiwan's WTO membership, the officials said.

The 900-hectare figure will be a reduction of 300 hectares compared to this year's acreage, which itself has dropped 500 hectares from last year's level, they said.

Meanwhile, the officials noted that WTO accession will leave the board in a "losing position" because of increased foreign competition, coupled with a huge stockpile of tobacco worth some NT$1 billion that has yet to be processed.

Taiwan's tobacco plantations are all cultivated on a contract basis. The board decides plantation acreage and distributes tobacco seed to contracted farmers in August every year.

The TTWB then purchases the tobacco leaves harvested in June or July the following year, at previously agreed-upon prices. According to board officials, the bureau will have to foot a bill of NT$1.05 million for each hectare of land on which tobacco planting is stopped.

The officials said that a decision on what to do about the farmers who rely on the board's contract work after Taiwan becomes a full member of the WTO, has yet to be made.

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