Tue, Jun 26, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Chile knows how to sell its bananas worldwide

By Ko Jai-son 柯吉生

Warmer weather and less rainfall earlier this year have led to a banana glut and a price collapse. Banana farmers are hurting deeply, and although the Council of Agriculture has adopted several response measures to resolve the situation, they are all temporary expedient measures that are likely to have little effect.

In Ecuador, bananas are considered “green gold” and are one of three major sources of export income, along with whiteleg shrimp — “white gold” — and oil — “black gold.” When I served as the director-general of the Commercial Office of the Republic of China at Guayaquil from 1991 to 1994, more than US$800 million of bananas were exported annually to Europe and South and North America.

The Chilean government’s fruit marketing is even more astonishing, with yearly exports to more than 100 countries exceeding US$5 billion.

In July 2016, I submitted two op-ed pieces on the success of Ecuador’s and Chile’s marketing strategies to the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), urging the government to send officials to these countries to learn from their fruit marketing strategies in the hope that they could serve as models for Taiwan and help solve the nation’s frequent overproduction, price collapses and stalled sales.

Regrettably, the articles did not seem to attract much attention from the government.

Taiwan has been called the “kingdom of fruit.” Before the nation’s economy took off, canned starfruit and pineapple exported to the European and US markets generated large sums of foreign-exchange reserves for the nation, paving the way for Taiwan’s industrial and business development by attracting abundant capital.

Even before that, Ngo Chin-sui (吳振瑞), a Pingtung County banana farmer, founded the well-known non-profit organization Taiwan Province Fruit Marketing Cooperative, facilitating the export of large volumes of bananas to Japan.

This earned banana farmers a lot of foreign currency, increased their income and greatly improved their living conditions. Banana farmers still fondly remember Ngo and his successful promotion of Taiwanese bananas.

Assisted by county and municipal governments, several fruit export businesses have had considerable success selling Taiwanese starfruit, guavas, mangos, bananas and lychees to Canada, Japan and the Middle East.

However, these businesses are competing single-handedly, with limited funds. In addition, assistance from local governments is not forthcoming, so there is a long way to go before Taiwan can start to export fruit on a larger scale.

Hopefully the central government could come forward to coordinate these exporters and fruit farmers, and set up a national fruit export association like the Chilean Fresh Fruit Exporters Association.

During the initial stages, it could provide capital and help with packaging, marketing and shelf life extension for exports. That could be followed by the Bureau of Foreign Trade, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council and the nation’s overseas offices assisting in marketing.

This is what is needed to open a new export phase for Taiwan’s outstanding agricultural products, inject new energy into the nation’s export businesses, facilitate economic growth in rural areas and attract younger generations to return home and take up fruit farming.

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