Imports should follow WTO rules

By Lin Shiou-jeng 林修正  / 

Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 8

The issue of food imports from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba affected by the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster involves a problem between two nations and their populations. It should be approached from the perspective of the WTO and its food hygiene standards.

Import/export trade is a matter of economics, while banning imports is political. The WTO’s aim is to remove, as much as is possible, political interference in economic matters, and the ban on food imports from those prefectures is an example of this kind of interference.

The ban has been a very contentious issue, but ultimately it should be up to the WTO to decide.

There is a set of procedures in place within the international community to deal with sensitive issues such as the prohibition of food imports from areas affected in these circumstances.

Should there be no scientific evidence to prove that the food in question presents a health risk, that a certain country should not export said foodstuffs, or other countries with comparatively stringent food hygiene standards permit the importation of the products in question, then other nations should not ban those imports.

South Korea placed import restrictions on Japanese marine products from the affected areas, and Japan duly responded by initiating proceedings at the WTO, which ruled against South Korea. Should South Korea lose its appeal, it will be forced to drop those restrictions.

This WTO ruling set a precedent that was applicable in disputes brought against Taiwan and China. The latter has already agreed to allow the imports. Where does this leave Taiwan?

Taiwan allows food imports from China, where food hygiene standards are far lower than its own, and yet it prohibits food from the affected areas in Japan, which has far higher standards than Taiwan’s. That does not seem to make a lot of sense.

Then there is the political dimension. Taiwan harbors far less anti-Japanese sentiment than either China or South Korea and, given the complex international circumstances the nation faces, it needs all the assistance it can get from Japan and the US.

There is no need for Taiwan to get into a fight it cannot win.

Import/export trade is an international issue, and needs to comply with international regulations. It is not a matter of individual preference.

If any individual in Taiwan has a problem with Japan, or does not want to eat food imports from the areas affected by the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, nobody would force them to buy those products. At that point, the issue could simply be left to the market to decide.

Lin Shiou-jeng is an associate professor in the marketing and logistics management department at Chung Chou University of Science and Technology.

Translated by Paul Cooper