One of the main reasons for the slow progress of a government proposal to establish free economic pilot zones is value-added agriculture. The public has different opinions about value-added agriculture and there are many areas that need to be clarified.
Unfortunately, the government has focused its attention on the trivial matter of peanuts and peanut butter, and to date, government agencies have not given any clear answers to issues such as whether labels stating the source of ingredients should be attached to products produced in the zones, how to best go about assuring that local agricultural ingredients come first, how to avoid processed agricultural products made in such a zone from illegally entering the domestic market, how to avoid competition from hurting Taiwanese agricultural products on the international market, whether the zones represent a disguised lifting of the ban on the importation of 830 types of Chinese agricultural products and doubts about the benefits the zones will bring to local agriculture.
The government is obviously deliberately focusing on trivial matters to divert attention from more important issues and this is why it is unable to convince the public. As such, the government’s policy should not be pushed through hastily.
The heart of Taiwan’s agricultural competitiveness lies in technology, management and certification, because this is what allows it to produce the high-quality agricultural products that make Made in Taiwan (MIT) products so popular overseas. It took many people many years of hard work to achieve these results, and it is the only thing that allows Taiwan to resist competition from cheaper agricultural products from other countries in face of ever-increasing market liberalization.
This is why listing the ingredients that Taiwanese products contain must be clear to differentiate them from the products of other countries, and Taiwan can look at the US’ Country of Origin Labeling system for reference. Taiwan cannot allow agricultural products made with foreign ingredients in the zones to enter the domestic market, because this would be bad for its own agricultural products and would be misleading to consumers.
For example, making pineapple cakes in the zones using foreign ingredients may not pose a threat to a well-known and established pineapple cake brand like Sunny Hills, but it would affect the sale of other lesser-known domestically produced pineapple cakes.
Another important issue is the ban on 830 Chinese agricultural products. For example, supposing products were made in the zones using imported tilapia for export, this would create competition for similar products completely made in Taiwan using Taiwanese tilapia. Therefore, discussion should not just be limited to the issue of peanuts and peanut butter.
The government’s main responsibility lies in adding value to MIT products. This includes measures such as improving breeds, the reasonable application of fertilizer, the safe use of pesticides, overall quality certification, the establishment of complete supply chains and the use of automated storage and retrieval systems, as well as transport. This would also involve using local high-quality agricultural ingredients to promote secondary and tertiary industries, creating greater added value for them and sharing profits with the farmers who work at the front of the production line.