The head of the Environmental Protection Administration, responding to a legislator’s question on the weak handling of the TS Lines Co oil spill off the northern coast, repeated the need for a “marine affairs committee” that the agency can work with. He said that plans for the committee had been put on hold after Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) raised concerns that the committee’s proposed organic law had been rushed, calling for the legislation to be debated again. However, can the agency’s poor response be blamed on the lack of a maritime affairs committee?
After years of discussion, this committee is due to be officially launched on July 4. Its existence is deemed necessary amid concerns that the scope of marine affairs is too wide and that there is a need for a specialist agency overseeing the entire operation to allow sustainable development of maritime affairs.
This agency would oversee institutions such as the Coast Guard Administration, the Ocean Conservation Administration, a research body and a national marine development institute. However, although technology lies at the very heart of marine affairs management and development, the Council of Agriculture’s Fisheries Research Institute, with its research ships and legion of researchers, is to be placed under the planned ministry of agriculture.
The council has also set up the Aquatic Technology Laboratories, whose responsibilities overlap in many places with those of the Fisheries Research Institute. The lack of properly thought-out organization is already affecting the ability of the institute to function properly, which is detrimental to the development of the nation’s mariculture and fisheries technologies, and to ocean resource management.
These problems have been wilfully ignored. Tuan was right. The proposals for the committee fail to comprehensively consider the reasonable allocation of the bodies on the central level or what administrative resources they would be allocated. It would have been better if they had waited for the incoming administration to establish the committee’s status and the allocation of responsibilities between the various bodies.
More important, the maritime economy — the “blue economy” — is becoming a major driver of global economic growth. The total economic value of the world’s oceans is estimated at US$2.5 trillion, and it is rising by an average rate of 11 percent per year — by 2020 that figure is forecast to reach US$3 trillion.
Advanced nations are developing their own maritime economies, playing to their own particular strengths. Japan, for one, is focusing on developing four major industries — ports and shipping, coastal tourism, fisheries, and marine oil and gas sources.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is sitting on a mountain of gold, without realizing it. The nation lacks an overall ocean development strategy. It is trailing its neighbors in maritime economic development, including in aquaculture, marine wind power generation and algal biofuels; aquaculture and fisheries are also being held back.
If the incoming government does not want to overly rely on China, one way out would be developing the blue economy. It could expand into new export markets by seeking regional trade cooperation, thereby increasing job opportunities and foreign-exchange reserves.
However, how to find a niche and create new business opportunities in a fiercely competitive marine market should be another major consideration of how we organize the status and functions of a marine affairs committee. It is not all about ocean conservation.
Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics and a former director of the Yunlin County Department of Agriculture.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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