Improvement in cross-strait agricultural exchange urged

Joyce Chang, The China Post

Unless there is an improvement in cross-strait shipments of agricultural products, the goals of “mutual complement” and “mutual benefit” will never be achieved in cross-strait exchange, said Lei Li-fen, a professor of agricultural economics at National Taiwan University.

She made the remark as she gave a speech about current cross-strait agricultural exchange at a recent academic seminar at National Taiwan University. The purpose of the two-day academic seminar, which was attended by professionals from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, was to assess the problems and disputes of current cross-strait agricultural exchanges in an effort to offer the governments of both sides references for policy making. Currently only Kinmen and Matsu, Taiwan’s offshore islands, are conducting direct trade with the mainland as part of the “mini three links” project for commerce, shipping and communications. The main island of Taiwan and Penghu are still trading with the mainland indirectly. Professor Lei said that the illegal trafficking of agricultural products from the mainland impacts not only Taiwan farmers but also the quarantine system. Given the political impasse across the strait, said Lei, content exchanges are limited. She said political obstacles also had to be overcome before normalized agricultural trade could occur. Professor Lei also indicated that the blind spot of the mainland’s economic reform strategy is that it values industries but ignores agriculture, ignoring the fact that more than 70 percent of the mainland’s population are farmers. Lei called on the two governments to rise above the political impasse and face the need for agricultural cooperation. An open attitude would not only bring in new prospects for Taiwan’s agricultural development, said Lei, but would also allow Taiwan to contribute advice to the mainland on economic reform, finance and sales. More specifically, Lei suggested “sector division” as a creative directional proposal for cross-strait agricultural development. The division idea calls for the relocation of cross-strait agricultural resources into three sectors — input, farming and marketing. Lei complained that current cross-strait agricultural exchange limits the influence of agricultural development in mainland China and has also resulted in competition between Taiwan products and mainland products. Current agricultural exchange across the Taiwan Strait is largely composed of product trade, investment and technical cooperation, technology and species exchanges and visits. Last year, the amount of agricultural imports from the mainland to Taiwan was registered at US$320 million while agricultural exports to the mainland amounted to US$50 million. From 1991 through 2000 Taiwan’s investment in the mainland was registered at US$2 billion.