The New Power Party (NPP) yesterday threw its support behind the government’s decision to settle agricultural disputes with China through the WTO mechanism, after Beijing on Sunday suspended wax apple and custard apple imports from Taiwan due to alleged pest concerns.
“Beijing chose to announce the import ban during the Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend and the timing of the thinly veiled threat showed China’s malicious intent. We severely condemn Beijing for the move and believe that cross-strait agricultural disputes should be settled through the WTO mechanism,” the party said in a statement.
When Beijing barred pineapple imports from Taiwan in March, the NPP said it warned the government that wax apples and custard apples could be next, and that it should prepare in advance by diversifying the exports of agricultural products.
The government did not respond to its appeal, the party said.
Taiwan became the 144th member of the WTO in 2002 under the title of “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu,” the NPP said, adding that Taiwan and China have an equal footing in the organization.
The Chinese government should follow WTO standards and procedures to inspect Taiwanese agricultural products, rather than unilaterally banning fruit imports from Taiwan without submitting any scientific evidence, the party said.
The WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures stipulates that “members shall ensure that their sanitary and phytosanitary measures do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between members where identical or similar conditions prevail, including between their own territory and that of other members,” the NPP said.
The measures “shall not be applied in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on international trade,” the party said, citing the agreement.
The agreement also requires members to “take into account the objective of minimizing negative trade effects when determining the appropriate level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection,” it added.
Whether Beijing’s actions constitute an “arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination” against another member or a “disguised restriction on international trade” should be determined by the WTO, the party said.
“Even if there are issues with fruits imported from Taiwan, China should seek to minimize their impact on the cross-strait fruit trade. Instead, its action has maximized their negative effects,” the party said.
The NPP urged the government to review its fruit export policy, saying the percentage of fruit exports to China has been rising over the past few years.
As Taiwanese fruits lack pricing advantage due to high production costs, the government should conduct market research in countries with high export potential and help farmers sell their fruit through established channels in those countries to reduce the risk of having China as the nation’s single largest export market, it said.
The Council of Agriculture on Sunday announced that it would spend NT$1 billion (US$36.05 million) to promote wax apples and custard apples in Taiwan and abroad.
The government in March announced a similar amount to boost the sales of Taiwanese pineapples to other countries.
However, government funding offers only a short-term solution and does not address fundamental issues facing the agricultural industry, the NPP said.
The government each year allocates about NT$1.5 billion to research and development at agricultural improvement stations nationwide, but the figure has been falling annually, the party said, adding that researchers at the stations spend most of their time handling paperwork rather than conducting research.
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