President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been in office for six years, and the situation the nation’s farmers find themselves in is worse than it was six years ago.
Not only is the price of agricultural production increasing steadily, farmers are constantly worried that high-quality farmland will be forcibly expropriated and the government will open the domestic agricultural market without warning, which could have a heavy impact on their overall quality of life.
Furthermore, Ma has grown increasingly out of touch with public opinion since his re-election.
If Ma wants to make a breakthrough on the cross-strait economic front during his final two years in office, he first needs to take care of agriculture and win the support of farmers before being able to bring Taiwan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or other free-trade agreements which would allow the nation’s economy to advance.
Here are a few suggestions for what should be done in terms of the agricultural sector.
First, the government should ensure that agricultural technology is not leaked overseas. The agricultural sector is mainly composed of small-scale farmers who rely on technology and new varieties of agricultural products created by farmers and research and testing centers to gain an advantage.
This is what allows Taiwan’s domestic agricultural products to compete with overseas agricultural products which are produced at lower production costs.
At present, the agricultural authorities are encouraging the transfer abroad of whole plants containing core agricultural technology, when only big corporations and companies have the financial ability to purchase this technology, not the average small-scale farmer.
Once this technology ends up overseas, big business can use cheaper local human and natural resources, leverage larger consumer markets and then use Taiwan’s unique agricultural technology to produce large volumes of so-called “Taiwanese” agricultural products.
Not only does this mean that the price of these products are more competitive than Taiwanese agricultural products, it will also greatly reduce Taiwan’s chances of exporting its own products. When this happens, it will have a heavy impact on the nation’s agriculture industry, and food sovereignty and safety will also be threatened.
This is something that should be guarded against carefully. The Japanese government for example does not export special varieties of fruit such as Aomori apples, the unique mango variety known as “eggs of the sun” and Japanese cantaloupe, and then hand over the technology used in their production to other countries because doing so would create competitors.
Second, the government should do more to open up international markets for Taiwanese products. Apart from the export of agricultural products to China, which accounts for 18 percent of Taiwan’s gross export value, exports have been less than ideal.
The government is promoting the idea of Taiwan joining regional trade groups, but policy should not only focus on decreasing tariffs or creating business opportunities for businesses.
Ma should also request that the necessary government departments use multilateral trade negotiations to remove tariffs and non-tariff barriers for Taiwan’s high-quality agricultural products and use this as a way of increasing the international market for these products, thus increasing the incomes of farmers.