The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said yesterday that negotiations on gravel shipping operations across the Taiwan Strait could begin at any time if Chinese regulations on Taiwanese shipping operators do not comply with the spirit of the direct sea transportation agreement signed with Beijing last month.
MAC Deputy Minister Chao Chien-min (趙建民) said that the administration would find out whether China’s requirements failed to comply with the spirit of equal participation, and if that were the case, it would be “properly dealt with.”
“We will immediately launch a negotiation process via the proper channels if such a situation is confirmed,” Chao said. “The Ministry of Transportation and Communications is in the process of investigating.”
Chao said Beijing had also expressed its willingness to talk about the issue should any problems arise.
Chao made the remarks in response to questions about a complaint filed by local gravel shipping operators, who have accused the government of neglecting them during negotiations for direct sea transportations links across the Taiwan Strait.
They criticized the transportation ministry for overlooking their financial plight and asking them to buy new ships. They also complained that China’s requirement that flag-of-convenience ships be less than 33 years old was too strict.
They threatened to use their ships to stage a protest at Taipei Port on Thursday if they did not receive a positive response from the government. Thursday marks the day when Chinese permits issued to five Taiwanese ships are set to expire.
Lee Li-jane (李麗珍), director of the council’s Department of Economic Affairs, said that five Taiwanese ships were allowed to transport gravel across the Taiwan Strait before the agreement was signed and they must apply for new permits from both Taiwan and China before Thursday. However, the department’s understanding was that China had not yet received any application from the firms, Lee said.
As for those who could not obtain a permit before the agreement was signed, Lee said they could continue to ship gravel from China, but they must go through a third country before coming to Taiwan, or they could apply on-line for a single shipment trip. The transportation ministry said it would help them resolve any problems, although the ministry’s position was to encourage them to buy new ships.
Lee said most of those who did not obtain a permit were rejected because their ships were too old. Those operators have asked the Taiwanese government to issue them permits so they would be allowed to ship gravel from China, but Lee said the department’s evaluation was that it would put Taiwan in a less favorable position because China might ask Taiwan to reciprocate for its old ships. Therefore, the proposal was not put on the negotiation table, she said.
The reason that the ships were able to ship gravel before the agreement was signed was because they took advantage of China’s lax implementation of its laws, Lee said.
“Now that the agreement has been signed, that door is closed,” she said.
Regarding the complaint that 10 Chinese ships that Beijing has approved were over the age limit, Lee said the oldest among them was built in 1975 and that ship would not be able to renew its permit next year. Statistics show that Taiwan imports 95 percent of its gravel from China, or 15 million tonnes to 30 million tonnes a year.