The island works to restore fruit kingdom

Taiwan has long dominated the fruit industry, utilizing plant technology to cultivate and maximize a wide variety of sweet fruits for export. However, in the last five years, the island’s fruit exports have declined significantly.

According to Commonwealth monthly, Taiwan’s fruit exports have dropped over 50 percent in the last seven years, from 73,000 metric tons (71,850 US long tons) in 2003 to less than 30,000 metric tons (29,526 US long tons) in 2009. Japan was the largest market for Taiwanese fruit, but not anymore.  At one time, Taiwan’s bananas were commonplace in Japan, now they are increasingly difficult to find.  Whereas Taiwan previously accounted for ten percent of Japan’s banana import market, now the island can only claim 0.7 percent of the market.

This decline is only offset by China’s increased imports from Taiwan. In 2009, China bought 16 million tons (15.75 million US long tons) of Taiwanese oranges, and by October this year it is expected to buy 3,000 tons (2,953 US long tons) of unsellable fruits from Taiwan.

At this rate, according to former Minister of Agriculture Two-way Pang,  Taiwan’s agriculture could revert back to a roadside stall industry if it does not adopt a globalize strategy to commercialize and internationalize. One example of a country that has adjusted well is the Philippines.

According to the Commonwealth, Taiwan’s bananas dominated the Japanese market in the 1960s, exporting 36 million boxes of bananas a year, from more than 50,000 hectares (123,552 acres) of plantations in Taiwan. But, in the 1970s, the American-based Dole Food Company started investing in the Philippines, Central and South America, using a collective production model to trim costs.

In the Philippines, Dole plants bananas on an average field of 30 to 50 hectares (74 to 123 acres), compared to an average one hectare (2.47 acres) in Taiwan. The company adopted mechanical harvesting and processing technology to ensure consistent quality at reduced costs. This has allowed Dole to dominate the market in Japan.

In an interview with the Commonwealth, Minister Chen Wu-hsiung of the Council of Agriculture said that the signing of the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China will greatly benefit Taiwan’s agricultural products market, allowing an economic geo-strategic advantage. Located in the center of China’s coastal line, Taiwan is close to many coastal cities and only a short flight away.

However, Chen said it is unwise to depend on China to purchase its unsellleable agricultural products. This policy would not establish a permanent market for Taiwan’s fruit and also leaves China in a secondary market position. Taiwan must change its thinking by selecting high quality agricultural products to sell and maintain long term trade relations with China’s largest distributors. Some of this is already taking place as China’s largest distributors and suppliers dispatched several purchasing missions to Taiwan in 2009.

By promoting the idea of Certified Agricultural Standards (CAS) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in China, Taiwan can establish a consistent quality image and guarantee the standards and origin of its agricultural products, allowing the island to charge more for it fruit, said Chen.

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