Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Simmering dispute over rice imports put on back burner


Bilateral consultations between Taiwan and the USs on Taiwan's new rice import regime ended at the WTO headquarters in Geneva over the weekend with no consensus reached.

The US informed Taiwan March 21 that it wanted to hold bilateral consultations regarding the country's new rice import policy and delegates from the two countries started consultations Friday, meeting at the WTO headquarters because of the SARS situation in Taiwan.

Taiwan changed its rice import policy from "import restrictions" to "customs tariff quotas" Jan. 1 this year, but some WTO members disagree with the move.

According to the "customs tariff quota" system, quotas for rice imports this year will be maintained at 131,261.04 tonnes, the same level as last year. Any country wishing to export more will have to pay a tariff of NT$45 (US$1.30) per kilogram, equivalent to a 450-percent customs tariff.

In addition, Taiwan has decided to adopt "special safeguard measures" regarding rice imports in order to protect domestic rice farmers and maintain the stability of rice prices.

During the two-day bilateral consultations, the US delegates insisted that Taiwan's new system should not be put into force until after the completion of bilateral consultations with all WTO member states concerned.

The US delegation also criticized the 450-percent customs tariff as being tremendously high and said Taiwan's quota calculation formula is questionable.

In response, the Taiwan delegates claimed that the tariff quota system is an important step toward trade liberalization, adding that Japan also adopted a similar measure in the past.

Due to their diametrically different stances, the two sides failed to reach any consensus during the two-day consultations, but they agreed to hold another round of talks in the near future.

Based upon the "customs tariffs" practice regarding rice imports proposed by the council, the quota level of rice imports per year will not be changed in the future, and the government will import 65 percent, while the remaining 35 percent will be open for the private sector to import.

The rice import issue is Taiwan's most sensitive and complicated agricultural trade issue.

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