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Taiwan trying to amend ties with Japan following referendum

2018/12/12 14:00:57

Taipei, Dec. 12 (CNA) Taiwan's top trade negotiator pledged Tuesday that the government will continue to amend ties with Japan while forging consensus in the wake of a referendum result voted by Taiwan's public in late November to maintain a ban on certain Japanese food imports, which have dealt a serious blow to bilateral ties.

Minister without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中), head of the Office of Trade Negotiations, said Tuesday that the country should work together to come up with a united front, or at least open room for "rational discussion," over the referendum result voted on Nov. 24.

Deng said the government has to respect the referendum result, but he also admitted that it dealt a serious blow to Taiwan-Japan relations and Taiwan's possible participation in regional and international trade blocs.

Deng was referring to the opposition Kuomintang (KMT)-initiated referendum, one of 10 voted for alongside the Nov. 24 local government elections.

It asked voters if they agree that the government should maintain a ban on imports of agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster.

The measure was supported by a 78-22 percent margin among the nearly 10 million valid votes cast.

In the wake of the vote, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that his government will not rule out the possibility of filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the ban, which has been in place since the disaster.

Also, while Taipei has voiced its desire to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a Japan-led economic bloc set to take effect by the end of the year, Kono said the latest development means Taiwan will not be able to join.

Asked to comment, Deng said the question of the referendum is somewhat "misleading" as the question only asked if government should continue to impose the ban.

But the referendum question did not give a broader context and he said the government will never allow Japanese products affected by radiation to enter the Taiwan market.

He blamed "some people in Taiwan" who are simply "enjoying a good show" and are waiting to see what will happen following the referendum. He warned that the issue will impact Taiwan's relations with Japan and its international trade bloc participation.

According to the government, Taiwan is only one of a handful of countries, including China and South Korea, that is continuing to impose the ban. South Korea lost a WTO suit earlier this year filed by Japan over the ban and is still appealing the case, while China announced in late November a partial lifting of the ban.

According to Deng, Japan has been doing a good job presenting the origin of their exported food products. It also has multiple checks in place before selling food products from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster to make sure they are safe to eat.

The Taiwan government will also double-check these products' safety before allowing them to enter the local market should the government lift the ban, he noted.

He declined to speculate on whether Japan will indeed file a complaint to the WTO over the ban or if that could affect Taiwan's chances of joining the CPTPP.

The government needs to convince the public that it will safeguard people's health if it ultimately decides to lift the ban. But he noted that given the referendum result, any possible lifting of ban will not happen anytime soon.

The produce ban was imposed during the previous KMT administration.

It further tightened restrictions in 2015, when produce from the affected prefectures were discovered on store shelves in Taiwan, drawing strong criticism from the Japanese government.

Since coming to power in May 2016, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party has said it is considering lifting the ban on food imports from four of the affected Japanese prefectures, but excluding Fukushima -- but has run into heavy opposition.

(By Joseph Yeh)