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Radio Free Asia

Taiwan Applies to Join Trans-Pacific Free Trade Area, Days After China

By Raymond Chung 2021-09-22 -- Taiwan on Wednesday applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), days after China put in its bid to join the 11-nation trade pact.

The democratic island has been negotiating unofficially with CPTPP member countries, and plans to amend some of its laws in line with requirements under the deal, economic affairs minister Wang Mei-hua told the Central News Agency (CNA).

The CPTPP was signed by 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, and New Zealand in 2018. Before that, it was known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and seen as an important economic counterweight to China's regional influence.

Its member economies account for just over 13 percent of global GDP, and have a combined population of 499 million.

The move comes as China banned imports of custard apples and other gourmet fruit from Taiwan, in a move that Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen said was linked to the island's ongoing campaign for greater participation in global institutions.

Council of Agriculture minister Chen Chi-chung hit out at the timing of the import ban.

"We cannot accept this," he told a news conference, and vowed to take the matter to WTO if Beijing doesn't respond to Taipei's request to resolve the issue under an existing bilateral framework before Sept. 30.

He said the council will earmark NT$1 billion (US$36.05 million) to help promote domestic sales of wax and custard apples, and expand their sales to other overseas markets.

Tsai told a meeting of her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that the import ban -- which Chinese officials have claimed is linked to concerns over pest control -- is part of ongoing political pressure on her government since it began pushing for greater global participation and recognition after decades of diplomatic isolation imposed by Beijing.

"There is still huge political pressure on us," Tsai told the party. "During the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, China unilaterally suspended the import of Taiwanese custard apples and Java (or wax) apples with no prior warning."

"We immediately set in motion our response and will act to defuse this latest attempt at suppression as we did before with the pineapple incident," Tsai said, referring to an import ban on pineapples from Taiwan in February.

She had earlier promised to protect the country's farmers in a post on her Facebook page.

China notified Taiwan about mealybugs found in 13 shipments of custard apples and six shipments of wax apples during the first half of the year, but without providing any scientific evidence, Chen said.

Chen said the bugs are easily killed by fumigation and are present throughout the region.

'Highly inappropriate'

Taiwan premier Su Tseng-chang said China's import ban was "highly inappropriate."

"We have begun procedures, and if they don't work, we will of course be pursuing this through the appropriate international channels," Su said.

"We have never put all of our eggs in one basket, and we will find the best solution for the cream of Taiwan's agricultural crop," he said.

DPP lawmaker Chuang Jui-hsiun dismissed China's claim that it had repeatedly discovered mealybugs in shipments of the fruit.

Chuang said the import ban was a political attempt to suppress Taiwan, and called on the general public to buy as much of their farmers' output as possible this year.

Currently, some 90 percent of the island's custard and Java apple exports go to China, calling for adequate financial support for farmers.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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