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Cross-Straits Talks on Farm Imports Urged
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Beijing on Wednesday renewed its call for cross-Straits talks to facilitate the tariff-free import of Taiwan's agricultural and aquatic products.


"There is an urgent need for consultation between non-governmental bodies across the Straits for direct shipment of agricultural goods from Taiwan to the Chinese mainland at an early date," said Liu Junchuan, deputy director of the Economic Affairs Bureau of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.


Taipei has been reluctant to cooperate with the Chinese mainland in relation to preferential policies for Taiwan farmers.


Liu told a press conference that Beijing's call for such talks shows its "kindness" and "sincerity" in wanting to improve bilateral ties despite the fact that it could have unilaterally implemented the policies.


On April 15, Beijing announced that it would allow the tariff-free import of 11 Taiwan vegetables and eight varieties of aquatic products.


Since August 1 last year, 15 Taiwan-grown fruits including pineapples, lychees, papayas, starfruit and mangoes have been exported tariff-free to the Chinese mainland.


These goodwill gestures, however, have been billed by the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration as a "united front" strategy aimed at wooing farmers in rural southern Taiwan, a key support base for the pro-independence party.


The DPP administration has yet to authorize non-government organizations from the island to talk with their Chinese mainland counterparts on how to implement the preferential policies.


The DPP's unwillingness to develop closer ties with the Chinese mainland was reinforced when its lawmakers on Tuesday blocked an opposition attempt to vote on a bill to establish direct transport links across the Straits.


The bill proposed by the Kuomintang and People First Party calls for a removal of the ban on direct cross-Straits transport links imposed by Taipei in 1949.


The lack of direct air and shipping links between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland incurs an estimated economic loss of more than US$1 billion annually for Taiwan and has contributed a lot to its economic woes.


Customs figures show that the Chinese mainland imported more than 2,310 tons of fruit worth US$2.9 million from Taiwan between August 1 last year and April 30, 2006, with more than 3.9 million yuan (US$488,000) in tariffs exempted.


Also yesterday, Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office, asked Taipei to facilitate visits of Chinese mainland tourist groups to the island.


(China Daily May 18, 2006)

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