WTO might probe scientific rationale for ban: official

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 3

A Taiwanese official based at the WTO yesterday said that scientific evidence is the key to resolving the issue of Taiwan’s ban on imports of some Japanese food, a matter that Tokyo is considering taking to the world trade body for arbitration.

The official, who declined to be named, said the ban on imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant meltdown in 2011 was instituted due to concerns about food safety.

However, the issue has been politicized in the wake of a Nov. 24 referendum in which 78 percent of votes cast were in support of maintaining the ban, he said.

Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono on Thursday said that his country would not rule out the possibility of initiating dispute settlement proceedings at the WTO over the case.

If Japan decides to take the case to the WTO, it will eventually be resolved based on scientific evidence, in line with WTO regulations, the Taiwanese official said.

Roy Lee (李淳), an associate research fellow and deputy director of the Taiwan World Trade Organization and Regional Trade Agreements Center of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, on Thursday said that if called on, the WTO would rule based on two main factors — whether there was a “necessity” to impose the ban and whether it was issued based on “scientific evidence.”

Lee said there is little chance that Taiwan would win such a case under the WTO framework, given that the import restrictions are on food from five Japanese prefectures, rather than on “Japanese food affected by nuclear radiation.”

Taiwan would be badly hurt if Japan were to seek arbitration at the WTO, he said, adding that the issue could adversely affect efforts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, as Japan has a leadership role in the organization.

Minister Without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中) on Thursday said it was too early to talk about potential setbacks related to a trade dispute with Japan.

Official and unofficial channels between of communication between Taiwan and Japan have been smooth and any consequences arising from the referendum would be handled by the Cabinet, Deng said.

The two sides would need to continue discussions and seek common understanding to end the dispute, he said.

Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Wu Shou-mei (吳秀梅) said that the agency’s priority was to protect public health and it has no authority to decide whether the ban should be lifted.

Taiwan and Japan have a close trade and economic relationship, with two-way trade reaching US$62.74 billion last year as Taiwanese exports to Japan totaled US$20.79 billion.