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Taiwanese Farmers Adapt as Cross-Strait Tensions Grow

Taiwanese Farmers Adapt as Cross-Strait Tensions Grow

Over the past two years, Tsou Yun-shing, a 61-year-old farmer specializing in atemoya crops in Taitung County, Taiwan, has faced challenges in his business.

After China prohibited the entry of atemoyas from Taiwan in September 2021, his profits have been reduced by 50% and he has had to seek out other markets.

During an interview at his large orchards in eastern Taiwan’s Taitung county, the farmer stated that prior to the ban, approximately 80-90% of his atemoyas were purchased by China. However, with the import of Taiwanese atemoyas being banned, he is now forced to find alternative sales channels in Taiwan in order to cover his expenses.

Along with redirecting his atemoyas to be sold in the local market, Tsou also decreased the quantity he cultivates and began cultivating other fruits that are in higher demand in Taiwan, such as guava.

China markets

Tsou is not the only one facing this issue. His situation mirrors a common struggle among Taiwanese fruit growers in recent years due to China’s prohibition of certain Taiwanese fruits, such as pineapples, wax apples, and atemoyas, which heavily rely on the Chinese market.

Although the Taiwanese government has assisted certain farmers, specifically those growing pineapples, in finding alternative markets like Japan to alleviate potential losses, the strong dependence of atemoya farmers on the Chinese market complicates finding a resolution.

“In light of the uncertainty surrounding China’s acceptance of Taiwanese atemoyas into their market, some farmers have begun cultivating alternative fruits such as custard apples, avocados, passion fruits, and guavas to decrease their dependence on the Chinese market,” stated Lai Xi-yao, chairman of the Chi-Gen Vegetable and Fruit Co-operative, in an interview with VOA in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung.

FILE - Pomelo farmer Mulin Ou is seen trimming a tree at his orchard in Ruisui township, in Taiwan's Hualien county, Aug. 17, 2022.

Mulin Ou, a pomelo farmer, is pictured pruning a tree in his orchard located in Ruisui township, Hualien county, Taiwan on August 17, 2022.

According to the author, China’s plan to permit a significant quantity of specialized Taiwanese agricultural goods into their market is an effort to gain favor with Taiwanese farmers and gain knowledge on cultivating specific types of fruits and seafood.

According to Lai, when Beijing wants Taiwanese farmers to sell their goods in China, they will comply with the farmers’ demands. However, after learning how to cultivate specific types of fruits, they will restrict imports from Taiwan.

The trade of agricultural goods with China was deemed “abnormal” by him, as Chinese authorities have the power to prohibit imports of Taiwanese agricultural products on any grounds.

He stated to VOA that it is apparent that these bans are all motivated by political factors.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Taiwan Affairs Office, responsible for cross-strait affairs, recently announced the lifting of the import ban on Taiwanese groupers. They stated that as long as both sides adhere to the 1992 Consensus, which the opposition Kuomintang interprets as an agreement acknowledging one China with different interpretations, and reject Taiwan independence, they can consider themselves one family and address any issues, including the import bans on Taiwanese agricultural products.

In addition to using the dependence of certain Taiwanese agricultural goods on the Chinese market to pressure the Taiwanese government, China has implemented a series of forceful economic tactics to sway the outcome of Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections on January 13. In an interview with Taiwanese media Liberty Times on January 5, Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen stated that China’s choice to halt tariff reductions on 12 Taiwanese petrochemical products was motivated by political reasons rather than economic ones.

Recent import actions

Recently, China has eased restrictions on the import of groupers and atemoyas from Taiwan, which were previously reliant on the Chinese market. However, they have also halted tariff reductions on 12 Taiwanese petrochemical products. The Communist Party’s Taiwan Affairs office released a statement last month, accusing Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of violating the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between Taipei and Beijing. They claim that the DPP is creating obstacles and negatively impacting economic exchange and cooperation between the two regions.

The government of Taiwan has expressed disapproval of Beijing’s use of trade matters for political purposes before the election, and has vowed to collaborate with industries that may be affected in order to reduce any negative effects. On Tuesday night, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce indicated that it may suspend even more tariff exemptions on various goods from Taiwan, such as those related to agriculture, fishing, machinery, automotive parts, and textiles. In reaction, Taiwan’s Office of Trade Negotiations called on Beijing to refrain from using economic pressure to interfere in the country’s election.

In order to address the difficulties presented by China, officials in Taiwan are seeking to assist farmers in decreasing their dependence on the Chinese market and shifting their goods to other markets such as Japan and South Korea.

In 2022, China’s share of Taiwan’s fruit exports decreased to 12.9% from 22.9% in 2018, based on information from Taiwan’s Ministry of Agriculture. In addition to seeking new markets, Tsou from Taitung mentioned that the government offered various subsidies to support cherimoya farmers, like himself, during the two-year prohibition.

According to the interviewee, the Taiwanese government offered various forms of financial aid and assisted in the marketing of cherimoyas to major supermarkets in Taiwan. He also stated that while farmers were able to sustain themselves for the past two years without exporting their fruits, they did not see any profits.

FILE - This picture taken on Aug. 17, 2022 shows pomelo farms in Ruisui township, in Taiwan's Hualien county.

On August 17, 2022, a photo was captured of pomelo farms located in Ruisui township, within Hualien county, Taiwan.

Although there have been subsidies and attempts to redirect agricultural products to other markets, some experts believe that the Taiwanese government’s actions may not have been prompt enough in addressing the issues.

“In light of Beijing’s restrictions on importing Taiwanese pineapples, I advised officials to anticipate a potential Chinese ban on atemoyas,” Chiao Chun, a specialist in cross-strait agricultural trade and the author of “Fruit Politics,” shared with VOA during an interview in Kaohsiung.

According to Chiao, the Taiwanese government’s reaction to China’s ban on atemoya was not fast enough, resulting in a difficult situation for atemoya farmers that continues to this day.

Domestic policies

The agricultural products that Taiwan heavily relies on the Chinese market for have been impacted by China’s specific sanctions, leading to political implications in Taiwan.

A group of Taitung farmers informed VOA that they plan to support the opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) in the upcoming election as they believe it is the best way to ensure that China lifts their import restrictions on atemoyas from Taiwan.

However, Tsou has a different perspective compared to the majority of his peers.

“If a change in government occurs after Saturday’s election, it will have an impact on the circumstances faced by most atemoya farmers,” he informed VOA. “Should the KMT win the election on Saturday, farmers will be able to begin exporting to China.”

Nonetheless, he believes it is not wise for Taiwanese farmers to depend on others for their income, as this could make them susceptible to economic coercion, such as import restrictions on specific goods.

Tsou stated that if farmers prioritize quality and establish various methods of selling their products, they may not have to depend on exporting to maintain their businesses. They believe that democracy holds greater significance.