Taiwan must deal with Japan food import ban after applying to join CPTPP: minister

Taiwan needs to face the issue of a decade-long ban on Japanese food imports from areas affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster, now that it has formally applied to join the Tokyo-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the nation's top trade negotiator said on Thursday.

Speaking during a press event to announce the application, Minister without Portfolio John Deng (???), the head of the Cabinet's Office of Trade Negotiations, said Taiwan needs to deal with its existing ban on imports of agricultural products and food from the areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011.

"We definitely need to face the issue once the Japanese side asks us to lift the ban," he said.

The government will resolve the issue with Japan by safeguarding Taiwanese people's health while following international standards and scientific evidence, he stressed.

Deng also said that Taiwan will learn from the example of the United States, which on Wednesday announced its decision to lift all of its restrictions on imports of food products from Japan established in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

For food safety reasons, Taiwan's then-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government had banned the imports of food and agricultural products from Japan's Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures following the disaster.

It further tightened restrictions in 2015 when products from those prefectures were discovered on store shelves in Taiwan, drawing strong criticism from the Japanese government that has long been pushing Taiwan to lift the ban.

Since regaining power in May 2016, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has said it is considering lifting the ban, but has run into heavy domestic opposition. No progress has been made on the issue since then.

Taiwan's formal application to join the agreement came less than a week after China last Thursday also applied for membership in the CPTPP, suggesting a rush by Taipei in response to Beijing's bid.

Asked to comment, Deng admitted that if China joins the free trade bloc first, it will pose a major obstacle for Taiwan, because the Chinese government may oppose its membership.

Deng, however, said he believes all CPTPP member states will review each application on a case-by-case basis and based on whether the applicant is meeting all required standards.

He did not say why Taiwan's government waited till this week to apply for membership.

Taiwan's application to join the CPTPP was made on Wednesday by the nation's representative in New Zealand, who sent the accession form to New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

New Zealand acts as the depositary for the Pacific Rim trade pact, and will be responsible for passing the application to all member states.

According to Deng, Taiwan used the name "the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu," the same name Taiwan uses in the World Trade Organization (WTO), to apply for membership.

The careful choice of name is aimed at avoiding any possible controversy as it is a name that is most acceptable by all, according to Deng.

After submitting the application, Taiwan will begin accession talks with all 11 CPTPP members in seeking their support and in learning the pressing issues each member state is most concerned about, he said.

Deng would not estimate how long it will take for Taiwan to join the trade bloc, citing uncertainties concerning the accession process.

He stressed that this move is the biggest step Taiwan has taken in terms of international trade, after joining the WTO in 2002.

The CPTPP, which grew out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the U.S. left the pact in January 2017, is one of the world's biggest trade blocs, representing a market of 500 million people and accounting for 13.5 percent of global trade.

Its 11 signatories are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Local experts have been calling on Taiwan's government to speed up its preparation to join the CPTPP, especially after the nation is unlikely to be able to join the Beijing-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

For Taiwan, which depends heavily on foreign trade, exclusion from the RCEP could have significant implications for its economy, some local business leaders have warned.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel