INTERVIEW/Food import ban key agenda in talks with Japan in joining CPTPP

10/24/2021 04:18 PM
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Minister without Portfolio John Deng. CNA photo Oct. 24, 2021
Minister without Portfolio John Deng. CNA photo Oct. 24, 2021

Taipei, Oct. 24 (CNA) Taiwan's decade-long ban on Japanese food imports from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster will be the key agenda for bilateral negotiations now that Taiwan has formally applied to join a Tokyo-led trade bloc, the nation's top trade negotiator told CNA.

Speaking during an recent interview, Minister without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中), the head of the Cabinet's Office of Trade Negotiations, said Taiwan needs to deal with its existing ban on imports of agricultural and food products from the areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011.

Though the Japanese government has publicly said it will not consider the resolution of the issue as a priority for Tokyo's support of Taipei's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Deng said the dispute has to be dealt with sooner or later.

"Taiwan will bring the issue to the negotiation table once both sides begin official talks in joining the CPTPP," Deng said.

Both the Japanese public and private sectors have repeatedly and openly expressed their concerns over the ban for years, even though Tokyo has annually exported tens of thousands of other products to Taiwan, Deng said.

Some of the issues likely to be discussed in future bilateral talks on lifting the ban include specifying what kind of food and agricultural products will be allowed to enter the Taiwan market, what government unit will be responsible for inspecting the imported products from Japan, and what kind of certificate documents need to be prepared beforehand, according to the minister.

"Whether to lift the ban will be decided based solely on scientific evidence," he said, adding that the government will only allow these imports as long as they are scientifically proven to be safe to eat and can be easily differentiated from other products, and a proper system to manage them is in place.

For food safety reasons, Taiwan's then-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government had banned the imports of food and agricultural products from Japan's Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures following the disaster.

It further tightened restrictions in 2015, when products from those prefectures were discovered on store shelves in Taiwan, drawing strong criticism from the Japanese government, which had been pushing Taiwan to lift the ban.

Since regaining power in May 2016, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has said it is considering lifting the ban, but has run into heavy domestic opposition. No progress has been made on the issue since then.

The CPTPP, which grew out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the U.S. left the pact in January 2017, is one of the world's biggest trade blocs, representing a market of 500 million people and accounting for 13.5 percent of global trade.

Its 11 signatories are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Taiwan's application to join the CPTPP was made on Sept. 22.

According to Deng, after submitting the application, Taiwan is now actively in talks with all 11 CPTPP members in seeking their support and learning about the pressing issues which each member state is concerned about.

Aside from Japan, Deng said the talks with Australia and Singapore are not expected to be too challenging since Taiwan has no major trade disputes with the two countries.

However, he admitted that talks with Vietnam are expected to be thorny as both countries are competitors in agricultural exports.

Deng said applying to join the CPTPP is the biggest step Taiwan has taken in terms of international trade, after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Taiwan's application to join the CPTPP came less than a week after China also applied for membership in the trade group, suggesting a rush by Taipei in response to Beijing's bid.

Taiwan's government has expressed its concern that if China joins the free trade bloc first, it will pose a major obstacle for Taiwan because the Chinese government may oppose its membership.

Asked if he was worried that China would join the CPTPP before Taiwan too as it did in the WTO, Deng said back in the early 2000s, economies around the world had high expectations toward China, that was then experiencing a significant economic boom and was willing to open up to the world.

"How does the world see China now?" Deng asked.

Taiwan applied to join the WTO in 1999 before its official accession in January 2002. China's accession to the WTO was in December 2001, a month before Taiwan's.

Allowing a new member to join the trade bloc will require consensus among all members, he said, adding that Australia, which is facing economic sanctions from China, for instance, has already voiced its objection toward Beijing's CPTPP bid.

In contrast to China, Deng said that compared to 19 years ago, Taiwan is now a mature rule-based economy that fully respects protecting private property.

Deng would not provide an estimate of how long it would take for Taiwan to join the trade bloc, citing uncertainties concerning the accession process. But he has confidence that it will be shorter than the time it took for Taiwan to join the WTO.

(By Liang Pei-chi, Tseng Chih-yi, Lai Yu-chen and Joseph Yeh)

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