China’s shutdown of Taiwanese grouper violates trade rules (COA)

Taipei, June 11 (CNA) China’s decision to suspend grouper imports from Taiwan has violated international trade rules, and Taiwan may raise the issue at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the head of the Council of Agriculture (COA) Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) said Saturday.

On Friday, China’s General Administration of Customs announced without warning that it would suspend grouper imports from Taiwan from June 13, citing several findings of banned chemicals and excessive levels of oxytetracycline in grouper imports. since last December, Chen said.

He argued that China’s move was not in line with international trade rules because when a problem like this occurs, standard procedure is to return or destroy problematic shipments instead of making them. a general case.

China has reacted similarly in the past when it discovered problems with agricultural imports, including suspending Thai longan and banning imports of pineapples, wax apples and sugar apples from Taiwan. Last year.

In those cases, Taiwan questioned China’s findings and Chen on Saturday tried to reassure consumers about the quality of Taiwanese grouper, saying there had been no findings of excessive drug levels in the fish in 2019 and 2020.

Although China notified the COA last year that it had found excessive drug residues in grouper imported from two Taiwanese fish farms, the COA conducted tests later indicating the products were safe, Chen said. .

The COA relayed its findings to China, but it never responded, he said.

Chen said the COA would provide more scientific evidence to China through existing bilateral channels, but he would not rule out taking its concerns to the WTO’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Committee) if China did not provide an official explanation for the suspension. .

The WTO committee oversees the implementation of the “Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures”, also known as the SPS Agreement, and provides a forum for discussion of animal health and plant and food safety affecting trade.

Chen said the COA will initiate emergency measures to help grouper farmers affected by the Chinese ban to sell their product in domestic and overseas markets, including setting up cold chain logistics to help farmers to sell frozen grouper in western markets.

However, the Chinese market was not as important for Taiwanese grouper farmers in 2021 as before, with China buying 6,000 metric tons of fish in 2021, compared to more than 10,000 metric tons in previous years, according to Chen.

Still, China accounted for 91% of Taiwan’s grouper exports last year, with the rest going to Hong Kong, the United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

In 2021, Taiwan exported 6,681 metric tons of grouper, worth NT$1.68 billion (US$57.3 million), out of a total of 16,940 metric tons farmed around Taiwan, according to reports. COA data.

Responding to Saturday’s development, fish farmers who were accused last year of exporting substandard grouper expressed frustration.

One of them, Wang Chi-yi (王志義) from Pingtung County, said that there were too many uncertainties in the Chinese market and that he had given up grouper farming and focused on growing mangrove snappers for the domestic market.

Chen said China’s strategy is to target Taiwanese products that are relatively dependent on the Chinese market, but Taiwan has tried to help farmers diversify their markets.

In 2021, only 45% of Taiwan’s fruit exports went to China, compared to more than 80% in previous years, he said.

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