A more rational, responsible and sustainable trade order is needed across the Taiwan Straits

Editor's note: Liu Kuangyu is an associate research fellow with the Taiwan Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article reflects the author's views, and not necessarily those of CGTN. 

Taiwan's exports of mangoes to the Chinese mainland have been suspended since August 21 due to repeated detection of quarantine pests such as Planococcus minor this year. The Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council pointed out that it has notified the Taiwan side through the contact channel under the "Cross-Straits Arrangement on Cooperation of Agricultural Product Quarantine and Inspection," asking the Taiwan side to further improve the plant quarantine management system. The above measures are normal scientific and reasonable biosafety precautions which fall in line with the relevant laws, regulations and standards of the mainland.

The term Planococcus minor, which is somewhat unfamiliar to the public, has appeared many times in cross-Straits agricultural trade. This invasive species, known as the "fruit killer," can pose a threat to thousands of plants and is easy to spread. Once introduced, it will pose a serious threat to agricultural production and ecological security in the Chinese mainland.

Mango is Taiwan's important export agricultural produce, whose main target market has long been the Chinese mainland. However, serious safety problems from Taiwan mangoes have been repeatedly exposed in recent years. In 2021, New Zealand banned the import of mangoes due to the discovery of Oriental fruit fly larvae. The same thing happened in Japan previously. In 2022, it was withdrawn from sale in Hong Kong and Macau upon detection of the COVID-19 virus.

It is a normal policy for cross-Straits trade in agricultural products to comply with relevant statutory inspection and quarantine standards. Based on the Chinese mainland's "one family across the Taiwan Straits" goodwill, as well as the principle of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), the Chinese mainland has long granted preferential policies to Taiwan's agricultural products to help them expand their market and sales. Unfortunately, Taiwan media has reported that some producers have relaxed quality control with little concern over sales. Yang Yufan, a big dealer of pineapple from Tainan City, once said on a TV show that, "pineapple sold to Japan should be strictly selected, and those to the Chinese mainland just needs to look like a pineapple."

Meanwhile, customs clearance testing of cold-chain food products was strengthened during the coronavirus outbreak. This included a variety of agricultural and fishery products such as Taiwan's chilled largehead hairtail, frozen jack mackerel, and sugar apples, which were temporarily banned for import due to failing tests, forming a strong shock to the island.

This shock has prompted Taiwan producers to actively carry out self-management and self-help. In September 2021, the import of Taiwan-produced sugar apples was suspended by the Chinese mainland due to detection of quarantine pests such as Planococcus minor as well. The relevant producers in Taiwan's local counties and cities were disappointed by the passive, incompetent and confrontational attitude of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities. Following the "spring tide" of cross-Straits exchanges actively promoted by the mainland this year, on the common political basis of the 1992 Consensus, producers visited the Chinese mainland several times through the assistance of the Chinese Kuomintang to understand the new food safety standards and norms. After returning to Taiwan, under the guidance of agricultural scholars, they then invented and introduced a new series of quality control for the whole process of fruit production, effectively improving the safety and quality of fruit.

This practice has been followed by farmers and fishermen in Pingtung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Chiayi and other "deep green" counties in southern Taiwan. It is worth noting that these counties and cities are also the main mango producing areas in Taiwan. 

In June this year, the Chinese mainland resumed the import of sugar apples from the relevant areas. 

Many producers from Taiwan have pointed out that the cross-Straits ECFA takes care of small and medium-sized enterprises and grassroots businesses in Taiwan, and the Taiwan side should cherish the goodwill and improve its supply chain quality management. However, DPP authorities would only unreasonably accuse the Chinese mainland, and fail to put forward improvement and consultation measures, leading to the abeyance of the "Cross-Straits Arrangement on Cooperation of Agricultural Product Quarantine and Inspection."

On the other hand, the Chinese mainland is now launching the whole-process supervision of food safety “from the field to the table", amending the law to improve standards, with pollution-free, green, organic and zero-carbon certified agricultural products becoming the leading products in mainland consumption, and the corresponding demand for imported high-quality fruits increasing. The Taiwan side should pay attention to the changes in market direction and consumption preferences, get rid of the trade mode of simply relying on the mainland's unilateral preferential treatments, make better use of its own refined agricultural tradition, actively integrate into the mainland market with a higher level of product management, and seize the greater opportunity of Chinese-style modernization.

Recently, the Ministry of Commerce has implemented provisional anti-dumping measures on polycarbonate from Taiwan and announced the latest progress in its investigation of trade barriers to Taiwan, and is willing to study the suspension or partial suspension of ECFA's tariff preference for Taiwan products. At the same time, Taiwan's agricultural export performance is getting worse every year, falling by almost 10 percent in the first half of this year amid the DPP's decoupling from the Chinese mainland. The business community on the island clamored that the mainland's review or even termination of the ECFA is becoming an increasingly possible reality. Cross-Straits trade has been in an unfair and unstable state of unilateral concessions from the Mainland for a long time. Therefore, if there are trade problems, Taiwan is bound to lose out more.

On cross-Straits economic and trade issues, the Chinese mainland has always been pragmatic and factual. On the other hand, the DPP will only shift focus and intensify contradictions, unable to think rationally about its responsibility for sustainable cross-Straits relations.

The Taiwan side should re-understand the current cross-Straits situation, as well as the objective evolution of Chinese mainland demand and learn from recent lessons of mango, sugar apple and polycarbonate incidents. It should do a better job in implementing supply-side reform, apply a more rational and responsible attitude to reduce cross-Straits confrontation, and forge a healthier, more sustainable, and mutually beneficial political and economic relationship with the Chinese mainland.

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