On Feb. 25, China unilaterally announced that starting in March, the importation of pineapples from Taiwan would be banned.
On the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the pineapple ban was followed by a notice from the Chinese General Administration of Customs that the importation of custard apples and wax apples from Taiwan would be suspended from the next day, citing pest concerns.
It is neither pineapple, custard apple nor wax apple season; importation of these fruits ended in April, and the timing of the pest concern notification raises questions about whether there are real pest concerns or there is a different motive.
Because of the proximity of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the positive image of Taiwan’s agricultural products and their high acceptance among Chinese consumers, China has long been the main market for the nation’s agricultural products, buying more than 20 percent of the exports at a value of more than US$1 billion. The top three fruit exports are pineapples, custard apples — or more precisely mainly atemoya, a hybrid of custard apple and cherimoya — and wax apples, so it is not surprising that the ban on pineapples was followed by a ban on the other two fruits.
A lot of work must be done to mitigate the effects of the ban before custard apples and wax apples reach the market in December.
The first step should be a direct response, including specific improvements of the safety management of orchards, post-harvest handling and inspection, batch-by-batch quarantine before shipment, and the establishment of a production and sales history tracing system.
The second step should be export diversification. This sounds like a cliche, but Taiwanese custard apples and wax apples are unique on the world market, so this is an opportunity to promote these fruits in Japan and Singapore, or even the US and Canada, and to invite overseas traders and distributors to learn more about them and taste them.
Third, new products should be developed to enter new markets. In addition to being eaten fresh, custard apples can be frozen or used to make ice cream, and wax apples can be dried, or processed into jam or syrup. These products would stand out.
Moreover, processed or frozen products can be exported to China without quarantine requirements.
Fourth, the Council of Agriculture should initiate a NT$1 billion (US$36.06 million) fund for international promotion of custard apples and wax apples, new product development, and transportation and cold chain subsidies as it did to address the pineapple ban. These funds would not necessarily be used up, because the NT$560 million invested after the pineapple ban was enough to support the market and diversify exports.
Finally, agricultural insurances should once more be promoted. Four years ago, the council started promoting custard apple income insurance to mitigate natural disasters and price risks, but due to good weather conditions, good harvests and price stability over the past few years, farmers have increasingly ignored the importance of insurance, and currently only 3.8 percent of land for atemoya cultivation is covered by insurance, while for wax apples only climate-indexed insurance — which does not cover price risks — is available.
The recent ban will hopefully lead to a greater emphasis on fundamental export inspection, and further lead to the development of new products, the diversification of risk and added value, and the expansion of agricultural income insurance.
Yang Min-hsien is a professor at Feng Chia University and former president of the Rural Economics Society of Taiwan.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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