Local gravel shipping operators yesterday accused the government of neglecting them during negotiations for direct sea transportation links across the Taiwan Strait, asking the transportation minister to step down and threatening to stage a protest on Thursday.
Hsiao Sheng-chi (蕭勝旗), chairman of the Taiwan Association of Gravel Importers, said that the opening up of direct transportation links was a positive move. However, he said the country’s negotiator, Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) Vice Minister Oliver Yu (游芳來), had shown little concern for the interests of local gravel importers.
“He threw away the country’s sovereignty and our interests,” Hsiao said. “We are here to express our deepest disssatisfaction with Yu and strongest protest to the government.”
Hsiao said that before the Straits Exchange Foundation conducted the negotiations for direct transportation links with its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, his association had expressed concern to the MOTC. Yu, however, told them to buy new ships.
“We are here not to beg or plead, but to ask the government to replace the rice bowl that has been broken,” Hsiao said.
He said that since the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration took office in May, things had taken a downward turn for gravel shippers.
If they did not receive a positive response from the government, Hsiao said, they would use their ships to stage a protest at the Port of Taipei.
Lin Lu-tong (林呂通), vice chairman of the association, said that he was very unhappy with the way Yu handled the matter.
While China has approved 10 of its own ships to conduct direct sea transportation, the ministry told the association members to apply for the special permit from China.
“It is like we have parents, but they pay no attention to us,” Lin said. “With the permits issued to five [Taiwanese] ships set to expire on Jan. 1, the association’s 21 ships are like orphans nobody wants.”
Lin said Taiwan had allowed gravel imports from China in 1997, but local importers were not required to obtain a permit to ship between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan until recently. China then unilaterally announced that they would no longer issue the permit to ships more than 30 years old, Lin said.
Beijing had originally intended to allow only Taiwanese ships less than 10 years old to ship gravel, Lin said, but later agreed to let ships owned by Taiwanese firms but registered in a third country to do so.
Cheng Yung-ming (鄭永明), an association member, said that they could not afford to buy newer ships because of the prohibitive cost.
He estimated that the association’s 21 ships would lose tens of billions of NT dollars each year if they were no longer permitted to ship gravel across the Taiwan Strait
Cheng has had two ships transporting gravel from China since 2000. He said each cost him more than NT$300 million but now he could sell them for only NT$30 million.
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The association vented its anger yesterday following a report by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) that said 20 Taiwan-affiliated sandstone ships that carried flags from other countries had been barred from entering Chinese seaports despite the agreement that had opened direct cross-strait sea links.