While the government is touting the benefits the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to the agricultural sector, academics doubt the claims are grounded in reality.
The trade deficit with China in the agricultural sector is continuing to grow and more than half of the products on the ECFA’s “early harvest” list did not even total NT$1 million (US$33,000) in export profits, they said.
There were no sales of frozen fresh squid, while sales of bananas could have dropped by as much as 50 percent compared with last year’s sales, they said.
China and Taiwan signed the ECFA last year and China yielded some benefits in Taiwan’s favor, placing Oncidium cut flowers, tea leaves — which alone account for six taxable items — grouper and other items, on the early harvest list, and lowering tariffs on these items starting this year.
The list includes 18 items of taxable and 13 agricultural products.
In its promotions for the ECFA, the government said Taiwan’s agricultural exports to China have grown 2.6 times, but according to the Council of Agriculture’s Agricultural Trade Statistics Query System, Taiwan’s exports to China totaled US$428 million, or growth of 28 percent compared with the same period last year.
However, the system also shows that imports totaled US$520 million, or growth of 25 percent from the same period last year, while the trade deficit rose from US$82 million last year to US$92 million, an increase of 12 percent.
Sources said six agricultural items from the early harvest list failed to reach NT$1 million in export value and the total shipment was less than 4 tonnes, with squid not being sold at all.
Less than 1 tonne of lemons and less than 2 tonnes of both honeydew melons and dragon fruit were sold, they said.
The export value and volume of oranges and bananas were only 50 and 20 percent respectively, compared with last year, sources said.
Sources also alleged that an advertisement’s claims that export growth of frozen mackerel pike rose nine times, turtle eggs 23 percent and tea leaves 89 percent were false, saying that exports of frozen mackerel pike last year were 35 percent more than this year, while export volume was also 2.5 times more than this year.
Turtle eggs and tea leaves export volumes were also higher last year, and their export rates were also on a par with this year, sources said.
Former National Taiwan University College of Agriculture dean Yang Ping-shih (楊平世) said the ECFA was unable to help the imbalance in market demand as well as the supply of bananas, longan and guava, and was hurting agriculture.
With trade deficits across the strait on the rise, government efforts to crack down on smuggled Chinese agricultural goods into Taiwan are insufficient, Yang said, adding that the 67 tonnes seized by officials last year was only 1 percent of what was discovered in 2008.
The government should take care of all the farmers and not just give priority to a few specific industries like grouper farmers, agricultural development researcher Du Yu (杜宇) said.
The Chinese grouper industry is also on the rise and their technology would soon reach breakthroughs, Du said.
Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄) said the rate of expansion of each industry in the Chinese market is not uniform and that as agricultural products depend on the seasons, early harvests should not be looking at short-term profits, but rather long-term gains.
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer
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