On these questions, the government has yet to provide any satisfactory answers.
If the government wants to complete the international economic and trade negotiations with as little trouble as possible, it is going to have to win over the hearts and minds of Taiwanese farmers, and gain their trust, understanding and support. Only then will it be able to keep unrest to a minimum.
There have been many changes recently — the lifting of the ban on ractopamine-tainted US beef imports; amendments to the small landlords and big tenant-farmers program; the policy U-turn on planting trees on uncultivated land; the new system of reducing fallow land incentives by half; the setting up of value-added shipping and sales centers for agricultural products in the new “free economic pilot zones”; and the new farmers’ insurance system — alowwing people to see the arbitrary and unilateral decisionmaking of authorities within the government, carried out in a way lacking the patience or sincerity to consult farmers, farmers’ movements or the local governments expected to implement them.
Farmers are up in arms over this arrogant approach to policymaking and have lost faith in the government. If these departments want to regain farmers’ trust, they have to introduce policies that people find acceptable and stop forcing new policies on farmers, or holding them ransom with threats of economic stagnation.
More worrying is that, at a time when the domestic agricultural sector is producing more than it can sell, is losing valuable farmland, is suffering manpower shortages, farmers’ salaries are dropping and water supplies are restricted, the government departments concerned have delivered another blow: They have announced that the government is to allow unprocessed agricultural products from overseas to be imported into Taiwan, tariff-free, where they will be processed in free economic pilot zones. These are also to be sold under the MIT (Made in Taiwan) label, claiming they have been made on the “front shop, back factory” model.
This measure does nothing to help the domestic agricultural sector, and other MIT-branded products — genuinely domestically produced, with higher costs — are now going to have to compete on the global market with these other products bearing the MIT label.
The government needs to come clean about who is profiting from this endeavor, or it will find it difficult to avoid being branded as the government that allowed the nation’s agriculture to collapse on its watch.
Du Yu is a member of the Chen-Li task force for Agricultural Reform.
Translated by Paul Cooper