Taiwan fruit, fish farmers feel squeeze of China’s sanctions

HUALIEN, TAIWAN (AFP) – As a Taiwanese fighter jet screamed over the lush green fields of eastern Hualien county last week, pomelo farmer Ou Mu-lin sat in his orchard counting the cost of China’s latest push to squeeze the island.

Cross-strait tensions have risen to their highest level in decades as China rages over a visit by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month.

Beijing, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own, launched drills in response, sending missiles into waters around the island – and it torpedoed exports of certain fruit and fish products to China with fresh import bans.

The overall impact of China’s latest economic sanctions is limited. But producers like Ou are paying a painful price.

“Our mainland orders have all been cancelled. Our pomelos have no way of getting there,” he said.

His farm in Hualien’s Ruisui township has dispatched about 180,000 kilogrammes of the citrus fruit to the mainland every year for several decades.

“The clients are waiting for the pomelos, but there’s nothing we can do, it’s a political problem,” he shrugged.

Grouper gap

Taiwanese farmers and producers have increasingly had to get used to import bans from China – with Beijing authorities typically citing sudden regulatory discrepancies rather than a direct link to politics.

After Mrs Pelosi’s visit, China announced bans on Taiwanese citrus fruit and some mackerel, while halting its own exports to the island of natural sand used in construction.

The month before her visit, it targeted grouper fish, the vast majority of which had previously gone to Chinese consumers.

Taipei said the move was politically motivated, while China claimed it found some fish to be contaminated by banned chemicals.

A year earlier, pineapple imports were halted after Chinese authorities claimed to have discovered pests in shipments, just as the annual harvest was under way.

At a grouper facility in Pingtung, Taiwan’s southernmost county, third-generation farmer Hans Chen of the Lijia Green Energy and Biotechnology Company said he would be “severely impacted” if the sanctions were not lifted by the end of the year.

Mr Chen, 35, manages a farm of some 500,000 groupers, and 90 per cent of its exports go to China.