Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) yesterday took on Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials over the government’s proposed lifting of the ban on imports of 830 Chinese agricultural products for processing in the proposed free economic pilot zones, saying their concerns were based on “misinformation.”
The minister told a press conference in Taipei that he was surprised at the questions raised by Greater Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Lee Yung-te (李永得) and Greater Tainan Deputy Mayor Yen Chun-tso (顏純左), both of the DPP, challenging the proposed liberalization policy that he said would “boost the development of agriculture.”
People should not view liberalization as a scheme to destroy the nation’s agricultural sector, he said.
“There is no chance whatsoever that we would be able to tap international market for our agricultural products if the project doesn’t go ahead as planned, the best we could hope for is that the ‘status quo’ is maintained,” Chen said.
Under the proposed project, which is stalled in the legislature, 830 agricultural products from China banned from being imported to Taiwan would be allowed to enter the pilot zones to be processed as food products.
Chen rejected the idea that food products made of agricultural materials imported from China should bear labels indicating the origin of the material to distinguish them from those made of Taiwan-grown agricultural ingredients.
Critics of the project have requested the labeling out of concern that products made of Chinese ingredients bearing the “Made in Taiwan (MIT)” brand would ruin the credibility of MIT products.
Citing the WTO’s “substantial transformation” on non-originating material rule, Chen said Taiwan is considered the country of origin of food products as long as they are manufactured in Taiwan.
National Chung Hsing University economist Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲), one of the critics, said he agreed with the minister that “substantial transformation” should be applicable to food products for exports, but added “that doesn’t mean that the government couldn’t require the labeling indicating the origin of material on products for domestic sale.”
The government should revise the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation (食品安全衛生管理法) to require the labeling on food products for domestic sale because consumers have the right to know where the material used in food products is from, Chen Chi-chung told the Taipei Times.
To address concerns that imports of Chinese agricultural materials for use in food processing in the zones would squeeze out domestically grown agricultural products, Chen Bao-ji said that the government would require a food producer to buy locally grown material equivalent to the amount it purchases from China. He said the rule would be stipulated in a bylaw after the pilot zone draft bill is passed by the legislature.
Chen Chi-chung said the rule should be written into the pilot zone draft act to ensure its enforcement.
“More importantly, since producers in the pilot zones would enjoy tax breaks, the government should demand that they use locally grown agricultural products as their main sources of material and only import material from China when there is insufficient supply in Taiwan,” Chen Chi-chung said.
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