The Council of Agriculture on Thursday said that China is blocking imports of seafood products from more than 100 Taiwanese exporters. The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) on the same day said it would not speculate whether the ban was politically motivated, but that is really a moot point. The main concern is that, regardless of motivation, China continues to impose arbitrary bans on Taiwanese exports.
Last year it banned Taiwanese pineapples, wax apples and sugar apples, and in June it banned groupers. After a visit to Taipei in August by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it banned largehead hairtail, citrus fruits and other items. The bans were politically motivated — particularly the bans following Pelosi’s visit, something China has admitted.
However, if the issues the 100 most recently affected exporters are facing stem from political matters, then China’s timing could not be more strange given the Democratic Progressive Party’s poor performance in last month’s local elections.
The MAC said the issue appears to be related to import regulations that China introduced at the start of the year, requiring that the food storage and processing facilities of importers from all countries be registered with the Chinese government.
The issue has caused trade disputes with many countries, the MAC said.
However, Taiwan has the leverage to turn things around in its trade disputes with China. Beijing puts pressure on Taiwanese food exporters at its whim, but avoids disrupting “the flow of Taiwanese-made processor chips needed by Chinese factories that assemble the world’s smartphones and other electronics,” The Associated Press wrote on Aug. 4.
“Taiwan plays an outsized role in the chip industry for an island of 24.5 million people, accounting for more than half the global supply,” the AP said, adding: “Chips are China’s biggest import at more than [US]$400 billion a year, ahead of crude oil.”
The government should threaten to cut the supply of chips to China if Beijing continues its unfair trade practices. Companies such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) make their most advanced chips in Taiwan and have facilities that make advanced chips outside of China, exemplified by TSMC’s planned plant in Phoenix, Arizona. More factories could also be built in other countries closer to Taiwan.
Food producers could also help themselves by cutting dependence on the Chinese market. One of the fish exports most recently affected by a Chinese ban is largehead hairtail, but annual exports of the fish to China in 2015 were only about 36 tonnes, which increased to 13,720 tonnes in 2018. In 2019 there were calls to further increase exports of the fish to China by bypassing customs in Kinmen County and shipping directly to Xiamen.
A petition to stop the plan said that it would result in overfishing and increased domestic prices, while urging fisheries authorities to focus on the domestic market. The woes of largehead hairtail exporters facing a China ban appear to be at least somewhat self-created. They could focus on the domestic market, as conservationists have urged them to do, or explore other markets, such as Japan.
Fruit growers have had great success in transitioning to the Japanese and US markets. The Central News Agency on Thursday last week reported that “Japan has overtaken China to become the largest importer of fruit from Taiwan this year,” while exports to the US of Taiwanese fruit, fruit juices, tea, cassava starch, pastries and snacks increased 40 percent this year from last year.
Taiwanese fisheries must wean themselves off the Chinese market as soon as possible. Failure to do so would result in continued suffering due to Beijing’s arbitrary actions.
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