Australia First pineapples, now sugar apples. Taiwan threatens to take China to WTO over new fruit import ban

12:46  21 september  2021
12:46  21 september  2021 Source:   msn.com

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a group of fruit and vegetables on display: China says the ban on Taiwanese wax and sugar apples is to protect its ecological security. (Flickr: Eric Hunt / Arthur Chapman) © Provided by ABC Business China says the ban on Taiwanese wax and sugar apples is to protect its ecological security. (Flickr: Eric Hunt / Arthur Chapman)

Taiwanese sugar and wax apples have become the latest tropical fruit imports to be banned by China amid increasing cross-strait tensions between the two governments.

China announced that the products would be suspended from Monday, claiming quarantine pests were detected on multiple inspections.

The move follows a similar ban on pineapples earlier this year, prompting Taiwan to threaten to take mainland China to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said that the decision was made to protect agricultural production and ecological security.

But Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council argues that "the ban is inconsistent with WTO and international trade regulations".

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Wu Muluan, a China scholar at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told the ABC that the ban appears to be China's reaction to Taiwan's plans to rename its representative office in Washington.

"I don't see any other event that may trigger this behaviour from Mainland China," Dr Wu said.

The US is considering accepting Taiwan's proposal to change the name of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office to the Taiwan Representative Office.

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Taipei, the name of the capital of Taiwan, is widely accepted by the international community regarding the Taiwan government.

Taiwan considers itself a democratic country and officially calls itself the Republic of China, but Beijing views it as a province of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan's diplomatic offices can only be addressed with "Taipei" rather than "Taiwan" as most countries do not recognise the island as a sovereign country.

Zhao Lijian, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Beijing had "lodged solemn representations" to the US over the recent exchanges with Taiwan, warning that the name change threatens to undermine the one-China principle, which identifies the self-governed island as part of China.

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On Sunday, Chen Chi-chung, the head of Taiwan's Council of Agriculture, said that Taiwanese authorities had urged China to provide scientific evidence for the ban and start negotiations.

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He said Taiwan would seek dispute resolution with the WTO if China did not respond to its request for a resolution under the current bilateral framework by the end of this month.

However, trade between China and Taiwan has never been on equal footing.

In order to tighten the bilateral relationship, China has been providing incentives for Taiwanese producers for years.

China has implemented zero tariffs on various Taiwanese fruits since 2005, including sugar and wax apples, according to the Taiwan Council of Agriculture.

While Taiwan has banned more than 600 Chinese agricultural products for domestic market protection.

"China has their political incentive to winning hearts and minds of Taiwan producers and farmers," said Sung Wen-ti, a Taiwan expert at Australian National University.

"Beijing has found that it can use the stick against Taipei, but it does not find a meaningful carrot."

Dr Wu said, "It is very clear that China wants to use [its economic hegemony] as a tool to discipline the trade partners".

China's market is 'difficult' to be replaced

Taiwanese government data shows that China is the largest importer of Taiwan's agricultural products, worth over $1 billion in 2020.

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Jade Guan, a Deakin University-based strategic expert, compared Taiwan's situation with Australia.

"For agricultural goods, even Australia is facing severe challenges and difficultly finding an alternative market [to replace China], " she said.

Since last year, China had imposed higher tariffs and unofficial bans across a range of Australian agricultural products, including barley, beef, wine, lobster, and cotton.

The WTO is currently dealing with the barley trade dispute between the two countries.

As the bilateral relation keeps deteriorating, it is unlikely China will lift its sanctions on Australia any time soon.

Dr Guan says that Taiwan is confronting a more difficult situation.

"More than 90 per cent of the banned Taiwanese fruits exported to China. Geographically, Taiwan is close to China. If Taiwan wants to diversify the market, the logistics will be more expensive," she said.

"For both Australia and Taiwan, it is difficult to find another replaceable market which is as large as China."

After China abruptly banned pineapple imports in February this year, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen encouraged its citizens to eat more pineapples to help farmers.

Taiwan's Vice-President Lai Ching-te wrote on Twitter that the pineapples once bought by China would go to domestic use as well as orders from Japan, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam and Middle East countries.

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