The agricultural sector should be excluded from the service trade agreement with China and manufacturers in the free economic pilot zones should be required to use domestic material exclusively to save the sector from “disastrous annihilation,” academics said yesterday.
“We are not opposed to free trade, but we do not support a system of completely free trade because social fairness and safeguarding the disadvantaged should always go before economic development,” Kainan University professor Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏) told a press conference.
The seven academics at the conference specialize in different areas, including agricultural economics, agribusiness and sociology, but they all said they were concerned about the government’s “excessive liberalization” of the nation’s agricultural industry as it seeks greater integration into the global free-trade system.
If the government fails to establish any protection mechanisms for the agricultural sector, which has an annual output value of more than NT$470 billion (US$15.6 billion), eventually as much as one-third of the sector’s value, or about NT$170 billion, could be lost, National Chung Hsing University economist Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has highlighted Taiwan’s trade relations with China as a catalyst for the pursuit of further global economic integration. The service trade pact and the free economic pilot zones are aimed at further deregulation and an investment-free environment to attract foreign investment.
However, the primary threat still comes from China, which could take advantage of the pact, which places almost no limitation on cheaper Chinese agricultural products, Chen said.
Chen said Japan and South Korea fiercely protect their local agricultural sectors.
Seoul rejected rice exports to the US in its free-trade agreement negotiations with Washington and Tokyo has also been determined to safeguard its agricultural sector during its negotiations for access to the nascent US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Chen said.
While farm produce processing companies and traders would benefit from the current arrangement, farmers would lose out, the academics said.
“After Taiwan joined the WTO, it prohibited imports of more than 800 Chinese agricultural products, but completely opened its market to other countries because the then-Democratic Progressive Party [DPP) administration recognized the threats,” National Taiwan University Department of Agricultural Economics chairman Roger Woo (吳榮杰) said.
Given the proximity of the two countries and the similar products, Chinese agriculture will more than likely replace domestic products, which are more expensive, the economist added.
“Now is not the best time to liberalize Taiwan’s agricultural sector, where the food self-sufficiency rate is a dismal 32 percent. Every country should approach trade negotiations with its own current status in mind and with a well-calculated strategy that could protect its own,” said Frida Tsai (蔡培慧), an assistant professor at Shih Hsin University’s Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies.
The agricultural sector is strategically significant not only because of its economic output, Tsai said, “but more importantly, it is also related to employment as well as having a social and cultural impact.”