International trade talks are all about giving and taking, but when the Taiwanese government mentions the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), it only talks about the good news. Not a single word has been mentioned about any possible harm that the agreement could cause to local farmers, nor has it said anything about appropriate government response measures. Agriculture officials generally lack any crisis awareness or security management and control abilities. However, it seems Taiwan’s agricultural and fishing industries are about to run into problems.
We have recently seen many media reports saying the grouper industry — which has been held up as a model example of the results brought by the ECFA — is flourishing no more. China has made major breakthroughs in terms of breeding, cultivation and production techniques, and this has led to a sharp decline — more than 20 percent — in the price of Taiwanese grouper on the Chinese market. Taiwanese fish farmers are suffering big losses on their deliveries.
The latest available data shows that between January and October, 12,596 tonnes of grouper valued at US$134 million were exported to China. That is more than 99 percent of all Taiwan’s grouper exports. The volume exported to Japan, the US, the EU and other main fish importers is tiny. Clearly this is not benefiting long term development of the industry or in staking out a position on the global market.
Government officials are, for the sake of short-term benefits and political achievements, letting this situation continue.
This does not only apply to the grouper industry. The milkfish industry — a traditional Taiwanese industry — signed a contract with China two years ago, but because the fish has many bones, an unusual flavor and the industry lacks a complete distribution system, Chinese consumers are not buying the fish.
The latest data shows that 7,324 tonnes valued at US$2.29 million were exported to China between January and October, and the current market price has dropped to NT$35 per 0.6kg. This is the lowest in three years. The ignorance of officials will, in the end, only hurt disadvantaged farmers and fishermen.
Since China’s production costs are generally lower than Taiwan’s, their products are more competitive. Although regulations on agricultural imports from China have not been relaxed, these products have long found their way into Taiwan via other Southeast Asian countries.
This nibbling away at the domestic market has already affected the livelihood of farmers. If those who do not understand the situation rush to open Taiwan to agricultural imports from China, the Taiwanese agricultural industry could collapse, therefore, caution is required.
A few days ago, Chinese officials demanded that Taiwan abide by WTO regulations. Agriculture officials later said Taiwan would allow imports of products from China that are not produced in Taiwan or products that are already imported in large volumes from elsewhere. These two statements caused panic among farmers who said such deregulation would affect their livelihood or even cause the industry to collapse.
The possible consequences of such a decision must not be ignored. The experience of grouper and milkfish farmers should be a warning to the government that it cannot allow the exportation of agricultural products to China. Doing so could create excessive dependence on the Chinese market, seriously jeopardizing national food security.
This is why the government –– based on political, economic, trade, quarantine and food security factors, the particularities of agricultural products and financial management issues, should initiate structural adjustments and upgrading of the agricultural industry before allowing wider deregulation of the domestic market.
The government must not sacrifice farmers for the sake of the bigger picture.
Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics.
Translated by Perry Svensson
For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s “century of humiliation” is the gift that keeps on giving. Beijing returns again and again to the theme of Western imperialism, oppression and exploitation to keep stoking the embers of grievance and resentment against the West, and especially the US. However, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that in 1949 announced it had “stood up” soon made clear what that would mean for Chinese and the world — and it was not an agenda that would engender pride among ordinary Chinese, or peace of mind in the international community. At home, Mao Zedong (毛澤東) launched
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new
To say that this year has been eventful for China and the rest of the world would be something of an understatement. First, the US-China trade dispute, already simmering for two years, reached a boiling point as Washington tightened the noose around China’s economy. Second, China unleashed the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, wreaking havoc on an unimaginable scale and turning the People’s Republic of China into a common target of international scorn. Faced with a mounting crisis at home, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) rashly decided to ratchet up military tensions with neighboring countries in a misguided attempt to divert the
Toward the end of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) final term in office, there was much talk about his legacy. Ma himself would likely prefer history books to enshrine his achievements in reducing cross-strait tensions. He might see his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015 as the high point. However, given his statements in the past few months, he might be remembered more for contributing to the breakup of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). We are still talking about Ma and his legacy because it is inextricably tied to the so-called “1992 consensus” as the bedrock of his