Scientific evidence key to Japanese food import dispute: official

Taipei, Nov. 30 (CNA) A Taiwanese official based at the World Trade Organization (WTO) said Friday that scientific evidence is key to resolving the issue of Taiwan’s ban on certain imports of Japanese food, a matter that Japan is considering taking to the WTO for arbitration.

The official, who declined to be named, said Taiwan’s ban on food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures since a nuclear plant meltdown in Fukushima in 2011 is all about food safety.

However, the issue has been politicized in the wake of a Nov. 24 referendum in which 78 percent of Taiwanese voters agreed to maintain the ban, he said.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Thursday that his country will not rule out the possibility of initiating dispute settlement proceedings at the WTO over the case.

If Japan decides to take the case to the WTO, it will eventually be resolved based on scientific evidence, in line with WTO regulations, the Taiwan official said.

Roy Chun Lee (李淳), an associate research fellow and deputy director of the Taiwan World Trade Organization and Regional Trade Agreements Center of the Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research, said Thursday that the WTO will weigh in two major factors — whether there was a “necessity” to impose the ban and whether it was issued based on “scientific evidence.”

Lee said there is little chance that Taiwan would win the case under the WTO framework, given that the import restriction is on food from the five Japanese prefectures rather than on all Japanese food contaminated by nuclear radiation.

Taiwan would be badly hurt if Japan seeks trade retaliation at the WTO, he warned.

In addition, the issue could adversely affect Taiwan’s efforts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership since Japan plays a leadership role in the organization, Lee said.

Commenting on the issue, Minister without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中) said Thursday it is too early to talk about setbacks related to the food import dispute with Japan.

He said the official and unofficial communication channels between Taiwan and Japan have been very smooth and that possible consequences arising from the referendum will be handled by Taiwan’s Cabinet.

The two countries may need to continue their discussions and seek common understanding to end the dispute, Deng said.

Meanwhile, Wu Shou-mei (吳秀梅), director-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said the FDA’s priority is to protect the public’s health and it has no authority to decide whether the ban should be lifted.

Taiwan and Japan have had a very close trade and economic relationship, with two-way trade hitting US$62.74 billion in 2017. Taiwan exports to Japan totaled US$20.79 billion last year.