Taiwan considers lifting ban on Japanese food imports to improve odds of joining CPTPP

The ban on Japanese food imports was imposed following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Taiwan looks set to lift a long-standing ban on imports of food products from five Japanese prefectures as it seeks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

On Monday (Jan 17), the Cabinet as well as ruling party lawmakers met to discuss the possibility of allowing imports from Fukushima, Gunma, Chiba, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures. The ban was imposed following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

It is likely that the government wants to resolve the issue in early 2022, said Professor Lee Shui-hui, who teaches Japanese politics and economics at National Chengchi University's College of International Affairs. He noted that this year marked the 50th anniversary of friendly but unofficial ties between the two sides.

Taiwan's pending application to join the CPTPP, in which Japan holds a leading role, "is also key in Taiwan's plans to remove its food import ban", said the professor.

The free trade agreement links 11 Asia-Pacific countries - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Taiwan's Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua acknowledged in December that the ban would most likely come up in Taiwan's push to join the CPTPP. "This has long been what Japan is most concerned about," she said.

Prof Lee also said that a referendum in December would have a bearing on the issue as voters had shown that they wanted food safety issues and politics to be kept separate.

In December, Taiwan held a series of referendums, one of which asked voters to determine if the island should allow pork imports that may contain traces of feed additive ractopamine.

The government maintained that allowing such imports - which would mostly come from the United States - would mean a step forward for Taiwan in potentially inking a trade deal with Washington.

The outcome of the referendum meant the government was permitted to move forward with the pork import policy. This, and lifting the ban on imports from the Japanese prefectures, were "symbolic gestures", said Prof Lee.

"For the US and Japan, they just want to see Taiwan's demonstration of goodwill, (relaxing restrictions) doesn't necessarily mean the two countries will be exporting all the pork and food products they can to Taiwan," the professor said.

A referendum in Taiwan in 2018 failed to remove the ban after 78 per cent of voters chose to maintain it despite repeated requests from Tokyo.

On Jan 11, Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association chairman Mitsuo Ohashi expressed his "sincere hope that Taiwan would soon follow in the footsteps of the United States and European Union and to properly address the issue according to scientific evidence and international standards".

Last month, Mr Hiroyasu Izumi, the chief representative of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association who is regarded as the de facto Japanese envoy in Taipei, called on Taiwan to take into consideration international food safety standards with regard to the ban.

A number of countries, including the US, Canada, India, Singapore, have lifted restrictions on food imports from Japan, while some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Iceland, Switzerland and also Russia are allowing imports but requiring inspections. Some food products are still banned by South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau. China and Taiwan have a blanket ban on all imports.

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