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Cross-Straits Talks on Farm Imports Urged
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Beijing Wednesday renewed its call for cross-Straits talks to facilitate tariff-free imports of the island'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 regard to preferential policies towards Taiwan farmers.

The official told a press conference that Beijing's call for such talks shows its "kindness," and "sincerity" to improve bilateral ties, given the fact that it could have unilaterally implemented the policies.

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

Starting from August 1 last year, the Chinese mainland also offered the same treatment to 15 Taiwan-grown fruits including pineapples, lychees, papayas, starfruit and mangos.

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 the 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 to their Chinese mainland counterparts on how to implement the preferential policies.

As a sign of the DPP's unwillingness to develop closer ties with the Chinese mainland, 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 called for removal of the ban on direct cross-Straits transport links, imposed by Taipei since 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 to the island 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 early visits of Chinese mainland tourist groups.

(China Daily May 18, 2006)

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