Sat, Jan 18, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Liberalizing agriculture is awry

By Du Yu 杜宇

Agriculture has always been at the center of trade disputes. Since the government believes joining regional trade groups is inevitable and agriculture is a hard-to-avoid issue in trade talks, it should first brainstorm, use detailed evaluations to create suitable responses and coordinate and integrate related ministries.

What it should not do is make estimates using adjusted economic models when much of the industrial data is incomplete, then use these estimates to set aside compensatory funds to appear as if it is doing its job.

Numbers are cold facts, while the feelings of our farmers are the exact opposite.

Agriculture in Taiwan is restricted by limitations, like natural and artificial resources and the government’s “land to the tiller” policy. Taiwanese farms are predominantly smaller-sized and family-run with an average actual farming area of 1.1 hectares. The output is so restricted that it is hard for them to bring about cost advantages that come with economies of scale. Larger Taiwanese farms seem small compared with the large farms overseas that sometimes span several thousand hectares.

For many years, agriculture in Taiwan has mainly relied on new crop varieties that have resulted from the hard work of the nation’s farmers, testing and research bodies, production technology, management skills and high-quality agricultural products. This has allowed them to win the praise of local and foreign consumers and to compete with international agricultural products that cost much less to produce.

Unfortunately, when interviewed by the media, top agricultural officials talk about how they support the transfer of Taiwan’s agricultural technology overseas and act as if the transfer of Taiwan’s core agricultural varieties and technology for nothing in exchange is nothing to worry about. Officials seem to believe that when overseas companies use the nation’s technology, they will not sell these products back to Taiwan, and that our domestic market will not be impacted. Trade talks result in such products being sold back to the Taiwanese domestic market, which will hurt local agriculture.

Officials avoid talking about how Taiwanese agricultural products need foreign markets to help readjust price and quantity and that foreign agricultural products possess various advantages over Taiwanese products, such as low production costs and a steady supply over long periods.

The heads of agricultural bodies have made ridiculous comments, such as that agriculture knows no borders and that since the US and Japan transferred technology to the nation in the past, Taiwan should transfer technology to other countries, as it now has the ability to do.

This also indirectly answers the question as to why the government has gained so little ground protecting the nation’s sensitive agricultural technology and product varieties. Little wonder that farmers suspect the government of trying to get rid of them and agriculture.

As investment in agriculture has become more popular globally, advanced countries and large multinational corporations have begun focusing on technology research and development, while stressing the importance of protecting intellectual property rights. What they are primarily concerned with are huge profits.

Would the Japanese government export special varieties of fruit like Aomori apples, its unique variety of mango known as “eggs of the sun” and Japanese cantaloupe then hand over the technology used in their production to other countries? Of course not. This would create competition for their farmers.

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