Council of Agriculture (COA) officials yesterday strongly denied allegations made by unnamed governmental sources in the Australian media that the Taiwanese government has banned stone fruit imports from Australia as payback for Australia's refusal to accept Taiwanese food exports.
Australian newspaper The Age said that the COA's decision to ban stone fruit imports from Australia, effective from Jan. 1, was, according to Australian governmental sources, "an attempt to bully Australia into accepting Taiwanese pickled and salted egg exports."
An official from the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, who would give only his surname, "Ke," denied that this was the case.
"This is not a case of tit-for-tat. It is normal that each country should express any concerns they have about their exports. Just as the Australian government is concerned about their stone fruit exports, we voiced our concerns about our mango, lychee and salted and pickled egg exports," he said, adding that it was the COA's responsibility and duty to promote Taiwanese produce regardless of whether sales were made or not.
According to Ke, the issue was discussed at the annual bilateral agricultural meeting between Australia and Taiwan in July last year.
"We first raised the issue of pickled and salted egg imports five years ago. If we had taken a tit-for-tat approach we would have banned Australian stone fruit imports long ago," Ke said.
Ke said that regulations relating to uncooked eggs were among the Australian government's reasons for not accepting Taiwanese pickled and salted eggs. However, Ke said that the Australian government does accept pickled eggs from China.
Ke said the fact that the ban had come just before the Lunar New Year was not deliberate, but due to the way proceedings had worked out.
Ke said the COA had first announced that there would be new quarantine regulations relating to the Queensland fruit fly threat in March last year in view of risk assessments that had been conducted. However, according to Ke, there had been little response from the Australian government until after the bilateral meeting held in July, when a draft proposal was first sent by the Australian government about storage and treatment measures that could be taken to deal with the threat.
Ke said the proposal had been insufficient and didn't provide scientific evidence in regards to the effectiveness of the treatment measures. It wasn't until Nov. 3 last year, when the COA announced that the ban would come into effect on Jan. 1 this year, that the Australian government had sent a full report.
In regard to his department's decision not to reconsider stone fruit imports before the Lunar New Year, Ke said: "We have protocols to go through. We have to get experts to assess the proposal. These meetings are held at specific periods -- not all the time. A meeting will need to be held with the plant quarantine advisory committee which takes place only once every three months."