Minister Lee Ching-lung, chairman of the Council of Agriculture (COA) left on Monday, December 12 for Hong Kong to attend the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference and field support from member countries to grant Taiwan recognition as a member country that is a net importer of agricultural products. The move was meant to protect the rights and benefits of Taiwan’s agriculture industry.
According to the COA, the ministerial conference in Hong Kong from December 13 to 18 aimed at reaching an understanding among members on the Doha Round. Agriculture was the focus of the conference attended by Minister Lee and Economics Minister Ho.
Even though it is a small agricultural economy, Taiwan has made a commitment on a number of agricultural issues. After the Doha Round, it is believed that future liberalization could bring significant benefits to Taiwan’s agricultural industry.
Taiwan also participated in the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Cancún, Mexico. To strengthen its power to negotiate, Taiwan formed part of the Group of Ten (G-10) small countries that are net food importers: Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Norway, Iceland, Israel, Mauritius, Liechtenstein and Bulgaria (that quit in April 2005 after becoming an EU member). During that conference, the G-10 countries displayed their resolve to participate in negotiations and protect their agricultural industry. All the issues of major concern to Taiwan were included in the negotiation agenda.
At the Hong Kong conference, intensive meetings were held among members of the G-10 to find a common ground and optimal strategy in entering key markets and to declare their common understanding and resolve.
Minister Lee said that the most important issues at the Doha Round were market entry conditions and Taiwan’s membership status. He suggested a flexible linear formula for tariff reduction, rejected the upper limit for tariffs, asked for reconsideration on the number of sensitive products, and proposed that the market opening for such products be smaller than that of general products. Lee emphasized that like other member countries, Taiwan has made some considerable concessions. To ensure that new members could implement their agricultural trade reforms, the Taiwan delegation recommended that the modes of concessions be included in a flexible clause for new members, including an adequate grace period, a smaller range of reductions, and a longer implementation schedule.
On the issue of fishery products, Lee emphasized the importance of fishery development and the rights and benefits of fishermen. Fishery products are natural resources which are decreasing and merit tariff reduction even though it should not be included in the zero-tariff liberalization section. The Taiwan delegation also suggested that a grace period be given to new members to give them time for industrial re-adjustments.
Before leaving for the conference, Lee urged all WTO members to understand the uniqueness and diversity of agriculture. Taiwan supports the WTO objective of free trade, but maintain that the agricultural diversity of different countries be respected especially during a period of agricultural reform. Hence agricultural concessions should be considered according to member countries’ agricultural environment and tariff structures.