TAIPEI — Japan and Taiwan on Wednesday signed two pacts concerning trade and other forms of exchange, though Tokyo failed to convince Taipei to lift a six-year-old ban on importing food from five prefectures closest to the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The deals were signed in Tokyo after a two-day meeting there between the two sides, according to a statement by Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. In the absence of diplomatic ties, the deals were signed by Mitsuo Ohashi, chairman of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, and Taiwan-Japan Relations Association President Chiou I-jen.
One agreement pertains to cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters and is aimed at ensuring the efficient clearance of traded goods.
The other is a memorandum of understanding regarding cultural exchanges. Both sides agree that the Japan Cultural Center, scheduled to open Nov. 27 in Taipei, will help promote Japanese culture in Taiwan, like the Taiwan Cultural Center, which opened in June 2015 in Tokyo, has done in Japan.
The relationship between Taiwan and Japan has remained robust despite the severing of diplomatic ties in 1972. Japan is Taiwan’s third-largest trading partner after China and the United States, while Taiwan is Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner.
Since severing diplomatic ties, the two sides by last November had signed 47 agreements and memoranda of understanding in such areas as fisheries, investment, transportation, environmental protection, education, tourism and energy.
The two-day meeting in Tokyo, which began Tuesday, covered three areas — general trade policy, intellectual property, and exchanges of agriculture, fishery and medical technologies.
A diplomatic insider told Kyodo News that Japanese negotiators brought up during the meeting Taiwan’s ban on food imports from Fukushima and surrounding areas.
And in reply, Taiwanese negotiators reiterated there is no timetable for easing the ban, and Taipei will only agree to discuss the matter when there is a public consensus on the issue in Taiwan.
The ban, imposed on food from Fukushima and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, remains in place despite efforts within the Taiwan government to ease it.
Last November the government proposed easing the ban in two stages.
In the first stage, the ban would be lifted on certain products from Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures but remain in place for all food products from Fukushima.
In the second stage, possibly introduced six months later, the ban would be further relaxed in ways influenced by experience under stage one.
However, that plan ran into strong opposition from the opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) and its supporters who questioned the government’s ability to ensure food safety, and the government dropped the plan after food subject to the ban was found to have slipped into the country.
Since then, Taiwan and Japan have been making efforts to advance the negotiation process, and one source told Kyodo News that the issue “will be resolved soon.”
However, the KMT think tank published a survey Wednesday showing a majority of respondents were against easing the food ban, and might reduce purchases of food products from Japan if the ban were lifted.
Still, KMT legislator Chen Yi-min said he is in favor of easing the ban if Taiwan can get something in return, such as a full-fledged trade deal, and provided the Taiwan government can ensure the newly approved food products are safe to eat.