The Government Information Office on Tuesday raised the possibility of banning foreign soap operas from prime-time television. Although a final decision has not been made, this announcement has invited a lot of criticism from fans of foreign soap operas.
From a free market perspective, banning foreign soap operas from prime-time television might not be an optimal idea for pleasing the general public. But the question is whether locally produced soap operas are ready for free market competition.
When it comes to free trade and free market enterprise, developed economies and developing economies always hold very different opinions. The economy or country that has a comparative advantage in most industrial sectors would want trading partners to open their markets all the way, while developing economies or countries in which certain sectors are struggling would do all they can to protect their vulnerable industries.
In a nutshell, the game of comparative advantage is the rule of thumb for international trade. The fact that Taiwan imports more South Korean soap operas than it exports to South Korea, simply means that Seoul has a competitive advantage in the industry of soap opera production. So should Taiwanese not empathize with the local soap opera industry as much as the agricultural sector? Why do people not want to protect some of their disadvantaged sectors when they do require protection? Why do some protesters represent or empathize with only certain disadvantaged sectors? The double standards applied to the local soap opera industry and agricultural sector are not rational at all.
Both Japan and South Korea have long restricted foreign soap operas on prime-time television to protect their own industries. When other countries do not want to play fair, Taiwan needs to reconsider its game plan. Unless Japan and South Korea also open their markets, there is no reason for Taiwan to roll out the red carpet and welcome the "cultural invasion." Banning foreign soap operas from prime-time television is merely an attempt at making an unequal situation more fair.
It is irrational to oppose the proposal of removing foreign soap operas from prime-time slots, as not doing so will enable foreign soap opera producers to sustain their dominance.
In addition, Taiwan's local soap opera industry really has to start focusing on creating quality products. After all, the "non-tariff barrier" is only good for the short term. Creating a long-term vision and aiming for high quality is the way to promote sustainable development.
Darson Chiu is an associate research fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.