Critics yesterday lambasted President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration as it mulls allowing Chinese investors into the agricultural industry, saying that Taiwanese agriculture has no future if it has to rely on China.
In an effort to stimulate the economy in accordance with its “Economic Power-up Plan,” the Cabinet’s Public Construction Commission last month held a meeting to review the possibility of allowing Chinese investors to invest in, but not be a contractor in, the nation’s agricultural infrastructure.
The review studied possible Chinese investment in a large-scale, exports-only logistics center for agricultural products in the proposed demonstration area for free trade. The final decision will depend on Ministry of Economic Affairs reviews at the end of the year.
If passed, the proposal would also open future Council of Agricultural logistics centers to Chinese investors, granting them participation in the bidding process and even allowing them to propose construction themselves, the commission said.
However, it added that though investment from China is possible pending the ministry review, the investments must not include items in which Chinese investors would be taking over the entire construction project.
Commenting on the proposal, National Chunghsing University professor of applied economics Hwang Tsorng-chyi (黃琮琪) said China’s logistics system was “a mess” and it was “a joke” for Taiwan to hope that China would be able to invest in a Taiwanese logistics center.
No country’s agriculture has been strengthened through foreign investment and “it’s like asking someone to hold your neck in a vice-grip,” Hwang said, adding that the Ma government’s plans to open up the agricultural industry to Chinese investment was undoubtedly the precursor to total abandonment of Taiwanese agriculture.
“We might then just as well take Brazil’s cue and start planting biomass energy crops only and import all our food,” he said.
“It is both ends of the supply chain that hold the most additional value,” National Taiwan University agricultural economics professor Woo Rhung-jieh (吳榮杰) said, adding that he did not know what the government was doing thinking of by letting Chinese investors have free reign over distribution.
“Is the government trying to mess up our agricultural industry?” Woo asked.
Woo said that instead of approaching China, the council should be encouraging farmers and agricultural organizations to handle the logistics part of the supply chain.
South Korea’s agricultural groups established a trading company to help their farmers export their produce and which uses the revenue to finance the farmers, Woo said, adding that New Zealand’s kiwifruit was a successful export due not to foreign investment, but local farmers’ efforts.
Woo said Taiwanese should be approached to invest in the logistics center, as that would tie them emotionally to the land.
Chen Lee Agricultural Reform research team executive director Tu Yu (杜宇) also said that Chinese agricultural products have been in competition against Taiwanese produce for a long time, adding that should Chinese investors have a hand in Taiwan’s international distribution, China would gain the upper hand in the competition.
“Our agricultural produce would face worse sales on the international market and it is very possible that through the supply chain relation, Chinese investors would be able to take over the few agricultural techniques and seedlings that Taiwan has managed to keep,” he said.
Tu’s comments referred to the increased flow of Taiwanese agricultural products and seedlings being brought into China by Taiwanese businesspeople.
Meanwhile, Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) said the Ma administration’s plans would affect national agriculture.
The Executive Yuan’s plans is essentially allowing Chinese investors to invest in a free-trade area in which foreign agricultural products are imported, processed and exported, Hsu said, adding that it would give the investors free license to import any of the 830 products from China that are banned on Taiwanese markets.
“The government is notorious for its customs control of agricultural products making it very easy for Chinese agricultural products to enter Taiwanese markets, and not only that, they could also enter Taiwan, earning them a Taiwanese label, then be exported to Japan or other countries,” he said.
The council said in response that it was unable to divulge details about the policy because it was still in planning, but it did not deny the plans for a free-trade area.
Though the logistics center would be limited to exports, it would not be limited to exporting to China, and would also include Japan and other countries, it said.