|The debate over China buying Taiwan's agricultural produce has
polarized public opinion. Most pan-greens believe Beijing's
intentions are malicious, while most pan-blues see this as
offering salvation for the nation's agriculture, or at least a
solution to the occasional agricultural surplus.
By considering how regular trading partners such as the US,
Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan, as well as the less
important EU, have responded to the agreements and regulations
imposed by the WTO -- an organization that claims to promote free
trade for the benefit of mankind -- we can see what malign
consequences may result from China's offer.
Agriculture is a unique industry. Its uniqueness lies not only
in its reliance on the weather and its dependence on large
quantities of water, soil and labor, but also in the fact that
products are easily interchangeable. If one kind of vegetable is
not available, we can always buy another kind. This is the reason
it took nearly a decade (1986 to 1995) for the WTO to hammer out a
consensus on removing or reducing import-export barriers for
Although a consensus has been reached, WTO member countries
each use whatever methods are available that do not violate the
agreement to sell more than they buy. It is therefore worth asking
why China is willing to purchase so much of Taiwan's agricultural
produce, regardless of price.
The Cairns Group, a group within the WTO made up of several
countries that export agricultural products, including the US,
Australia, New Zealand, Canada and some Central American nations,
makes every endeavor to promote the sales of agricultural produce
to the world.
Another group lead by the EU takes the opposite stance, instead
placing emphasis on the agricultural environment and quality of
life, and resists agricultural imports from other nations. Amid
the debate between the two factions, a power bloc, the so-called
"non-trade concern" (NTC), has come into being to resist
What concerns the NTC is that agricultural exporters should not
ignore the other functions of agriculture in a society. The value
of these functions cannot be seen simply by calculating
agricultural production as a proportion of national income.
Only by emphasizing these agricultural values can we maintain
the sustainable development of Taiwan's agriculture.
Japan and South Korea can also be categorized as members of the
Japan is concerned that its link with sushi -- and also rice --
may one day cease, so it emphasizes the importance of rice in
Japanese culture. If everyone in Japan was to consume sushi made
of rice cultivated in California, the rice stalks that appear on
Japanese banknotes would become meaningless.
For this reason, Japan regards agricultural products from other
countries as a kind of cultural invasion. EU nations point out
that without agriculture, Europe would lose the rural scenery of
which it is so proud, quite apart from the issue of the security
of its food supply.
There is not much that agricultural exporters can do in the
face of such strong resistance.
By looking at these countries, we can deduce that the ultimate
goal of China, a country with greater water, soil and labor
resources than Taiwan, is to boost its agricultural exports.
China now welcomes Taiwan's farmers to participate in its
agricultural development, especially in setting up experimental
farms. But these farms can only take care of a small minority of
farmers, and their livelihood was never the main issue in any
In the past, Taiwan made considerable efforts to resist the
import of chicken from the US. It should also be concerned about
how to handle the sale of China's agricultural produce in Taiwan,
especially as these products may be of a quality equal to that
produced in this country.
If we accept the incentives now proposed by China, Taiwan may
end up with no agricultural products to export, and this may well
sound the death knell for the nation's agriculture as a whole.
Wu Pei-ing is a professor in the department of agricultural
economics at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti