Without prior warning or justification, and in the middle of the Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend, China unilaterally announced a temporary ban on the import of wax apples and custard apples from Taiwan.
Beijing is repeating a well-worn trick: a similarly arbitrary ban on Taiwanese pineapples was imposed in March. It is yet another reminder to Taiwan’s agricultural industry that it cannot afford to become overly reliant on the Chinese market and that it must diversify markets to reduce risk.
Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) took to Twitter, where he posted in Japanese to promote Taiwanese wax apples and custard apples to Japanese consumers. Representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said that Taiwan has previously sold frozen custard apples to Japan and urged the two sides to discuss the export of fresh custard apples as soon as possible.
However, if the government and the agricultural industry hope to tap into the high-income, Taiwan-friendly and trade rule-abiding Japanese market to diversify risk and plug the gap left by China’s export restrictions, in the interest of fairness and reciprocity, the government must carry out a timely review of a ban on food imports from the Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba that was implemented after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011. A decade on, is it reasonable to continue enforcing the ban?
Today, only three countries — China, South Korea and Taiwan — continue to discriminate against agricultural products produced in these five prefectures. What this policy means in practice is that a blanket ban is imposed on food products just because they are grown in a certain region, whether or not they contain radiation that exceeds regulations.
EU countries and the US, in addition to most nations around the world, have lifted restrictions. Even New Zealand — which enforces strict customs controls, bans nuclear installations and equipment of any kind within its borders, and prohibits nuclear-powered ships from docking in its harbors — lifted its ban on the prefectures’ products in 2012.
Japan and Taiwan have the same testing standards for nuclear radiation in food products — standards which surpass the international Codex Alimentarius food safety standards developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization. In other words, if these food products were contaminated by radiation, they would have been detected and destroyed to prevent their distribution in Japan and would not have been allowed to be exported to Taiwan.
Taiwan must be consistent: When the Chinese government imposes an arbitrary ban on food products from Taiwan, Taiwanese should ask themselves whether they, too, are putting politics ahead of science.
In addition to remaining vigilant and practicing good risk management, Taiwanese should engage in a little introspection and remember to treat others as they would expect to be treated.
Huang Wei-ping is a former think tank researcher.
Translated by Edward Jones
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