Thu, Sep 18, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Cancun failure is a blessing for Taiwan's farmers

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

The failure of the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico, has provided the time that Taiwanese farmers need to transform their business, a top agriculture official said yesterday after returning from the talks.

"The breakdown of the trade talks on agricultural issues is actually not bad news for Taiwan," said Lee Ching-lung (李金龍), chairman of the Council of Agriculture.

"The result has simply given a longer grace period for our farmers to cushion the impact brought by the proposed immediate market opening," Lee said.

Farmers have found it hard to survive in the face of increased tax-free imports following the nation's accession to the WTO in January last year, Lee said.

The council has been promoting "recreational agriculture" through the establishment of bed-and-breakfasts or farming and fishing activities to help the sector branch out into the tourism industry.

During this transformation period, the government has no intention of making further concessions on agricultural issues, except for slight reductions in the subsidies offered to farmers, Lee said.

During the Cancun meeting, Taiwan and nine other like-minded countries formed an alliance called the Group of 10 (G-10), Lee said. The other members include Japan, South Korea, Israel and Switzerland.

The G-10 members agreed to jointly call on their counterparts to apply rules set during the Uruguay Round of trade talks between 1986 and 1993 in future WTO agricultural talks, Lee said.

"We realized that we have to form an alliance with other countries in the WTO, or our voice or interests will be easily ignored," he said.

Aside from the collective appeal of the G-10, Lee said Taiwan, as a new member of the WTO, hopes to strive for a longer grace period for the liberalization of its agricultural market, the longer the better.

According to Lee, during bilateral talks with Japan in Cancun, Japanese lawmaker Shoichi Nakagawa proposed signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan.

Lee said such a pact would be welcomed, but there is no timetable yet as the two countries have not scheduled the necessary negotiations.

Lee said FTAs with other countries will become more important if the WTO fails to remain an arena for the international community to solve disagreements.

"We don't want to see that happen, since Taiwan worked hard and long to enter the WTO," Lee said. "But if negotiations in the WTO in the future go nowhere -- the way this conference did -- I believe that many countries will seek FTAs with other countries."

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