By Koichiro Ishida in Taipei and Shinya Takagi, staff writer
Taiwan’s 2018 referendum that supported the continuation of the nation’s ban on Japanese food imports expired at the end of November. Taiwan has banned the import of all food products, except for alcohol beverages, from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011. Other Japanese prefectures are also required to submit proof of origin when they export food products to Taiwan.
Taiwan was the fourth largest export destination for Japanese agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and food products last year after Hong Kong, China, and the U.S. Taiwan received a total of 90.4 billion yen in these products, which is approximately 10% of all Japanese exports in this category. Taiwan mainly imports apples, alcoholic beverages, and condiments.
With the referendum no longer effective, the Japanese government hopes to resume exporting to Taiwan at the earliest opportunity and to encourage China and South Korea to follow suit.
Japan’s plan is to increase its food product exports more than fivefold to 5 trillion yen by 2030. Taiwan is one of the most promising for export expansion because the Taiwanese are familiar with Japanese cuisine. The Japanese government has used various venues to urge Taiwan to lift the restrictions, hoping to leverage it to shift the stance of China, which continues to impose import restrictions. An official at Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that a total lifting of the Taiwanese ban will simplify export procedures in Japan and boost food exports from other prefectures as well.
Restrictions’ implication on Taiwan’s bid to join TPP
The Taiwanese administration under President Tsai Ing-wen has not issued an official comment on removing the import restrictions. In an attempt to strengthen ties with the U.S., the Tsai administration announced in August that it will allow the import of U.S. pork produced using ractopamine in January 2021. The administration is currently facing severe public backlash for that decision. This reveals the high level of interest in food safety among the Taiwanese people, dimming the prospects for an early lifting of the import restrictions on Japanese food products.
Taiwanese public sentiment is largely supportive of continuing the ban. According to a study conducted by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy in September, over 65% of Taiwanese oppose lifting the import restrictions while approximately 28% support the idea. If the administration pushes forward with eliminating the restrictions, it will inevitably face strong pushback. “It is as if the Tsai administration is holding a time bomb,” a foundation official said.
On the other hand, the import restrictions on Japanese food products pose a difficulty for the Tsai administration with regard to its aspiration to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. On Nov. 20, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced his interest in joining the TPP. The Taiwanese are wary that if China joins the TPP before Taiwan does, it might make a move from inside to exclude Taiwan. Next year, Japan will chair the TPP. A senior Tsai administration official told Taiwanese media that the administration is concerned that the ban on Japanese food products may present an obstacle to negotiations to participate in the TPP. (Abridged)