Thu, Jun 17, 2010 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Taipei counting on Chinese taste for bananas

BANANARAMA Taiwan’s government hopes cross-strait exports will relieve the current banana glut, but farmers and critics say the policy is misguided

By Chuang Li-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

A model wears a banana bikini in a promotion organized by the Yoai Department Store in Yilan County on Thursday last week. The store made a bulk order of bananas to support farmers hit by the recent plunging price of the fruit.

PHOTO: YOU MING-CHIN, TAIPEI TIMES

To resolve the recent imbalance between production and marketing of Taiwanese bananas, the Council of Agriculture (COA) is seeking more help from the Chinese market. Between January and April, however, China purchased less than 2 tonnes of bananas. It bought 21.5 tonnes last year and none in 2008.

This stands in contrast with Japan’s steady, long-term purchases of Taiwanese bananas. It purchased 8,255 tonnes in 2008, 7,983 tonnes last year, and almost 2,994 tonnes between January and April this year.

Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in 2008, his government has tried to sell Taiwanese fruit to China. Critics, however, say China doesn’t buy anything unless it will benefit Beijing’s propaganda efforts, calling such purchases China “abnormal trading.”

Farmers have also expressed concern that while the government makes every effort to target the Chinese market, it ignores the Japanese market.

Statistics show that in 2007, Taiwan exported more than 17,200 tonnes of bananas to Japan, while the volume fell by half in the past two years.

Taiwanese farmers usually see Japan as a high-price market. Taiwanese bananas sold in China go for half what they would bring in Japan.

The Agriculture and Food Agency said the cost, insurance and freight (CIF) price of Taiwanese bananas to Japan was NT$61.9 per kilogram last week, while the CIF price of bananas to China was NT$27.6. Farmers, however, say the agency subsidizes exports to China through the Taiwan Provincial Fruit Marketing Cooperative and the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co, which buys the bananas from farmers for NT$15 per kilogram.

Pingtung County farmer Sun Kuo-liang (孫國樑) said the purchase price was not always NT$15, as some businesspeople buy his bananas for NT$7 per kilogram.

Pingting County Councilor Lee Ching-sheng (李清聖) said he was told by a banana farmer late last month that the wholesale price of Pingtung bananas had plummeted to NT$6 per kilo, a price so low that farmers cannot even harvest them for sale because it is cheaper to cut them down for pig feed.

Critics say it is impractical for the Chinese government to purchase large amounts of bananas from Taiwan since Hainan Province is also a major producer of bananas, so any purchases that Beijing makes are mostly symbolic.

Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏), an honorary professor at National Chung Hsing University, said when there was a glut of Taiwanese oranges at the beginning of this year, China announced it would buy Taiwanese oranges. However, the quantities were much lower than expected, while the price was also much lower than average price on the Taiwanese market.

Any Chinese purchases of ­bananas might be a repetition, he said.

When tariffs and the value-added tax are added onto administrative and marketing expenses, a reasonable price for a farmer selling bananas is more than NT$40 per kilo, he said. However, farmers are selling their crop for half that price now, so without any government subsidies, the farmers may not turn a profit.

Chen Shih-hsiung (陳世雄), chairman of the Association of Taiwan Organic Agriculture Promotion, said China’s fruit purchases have been superficial, adding that the Ma government should focus its efforts on the Japanese and European markets.

Unfortunately, the government is placing all its hopes on China, as it moves to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, he said.

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