The surprise ban on pineapple imports from Taiwan five months ago was widely perceived as an attempt to undermine President Tsai Ing-wen’s standing with a political constituency in China. The move has not produced the desired results, as evidenced by trade data. According to first-half statistics collected by Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, fruit growers on the island have fared better since China blocked imports beginning March 1, thanks to sympathetic Japanese consumers. Over the past year, shipments to Japan have increased more than eightfold to 16,556 tons. Demand was also boosted by a domestic campaign.
For Taiwan’s rattled farmers, the help from Japanese importers was a pleasant surprise after China’s move, which it described as a standard precaution for protecting biosecurity. There is a long list of products, from Australian wine to coal and lobster, that China has targeted for sanctions in order to gain leverage in trade disputes. In Taipei, Chen Li-i, a council official, told journalists, ‘We stopped the bleeding before it began’.
Taiwan’s pineapples are now destined mostly for Japan rather than China. It’s unclear how long the ban will last, the shift could well reverse once the restrictions are lifted but the humble tropical fruit has become a symbol of defiance amid the region’s geopolitical intrigues. In spite of all Beijing’s sabre-rattling, Japan and the island democracy have expressed a desire for closer ties. Tokyo’s leaders view their own security as directly linked to that of Taiwan, which China claims.
Pineapples are an important source of income for farmers in Taiwan’s central and southern regions. Around 11% of the tropical fruit harvested in Taiwan is exported. They were almost entirely shipped to China before the ban. ‘Export orders are unexpectedly good, This was a crisis that turned into an opportunity, said Chiao Chun, CEO of Harvest Consultancy Co. in Taipei.
Additionally, a ‘save the farmers’ campaign on social media rallied local shoppers in support of farmers. A day after China’s ban went into effect, even President Tsai weighed in. Local businesses also provided passionate support to farmers. Restaurants across the island added pineapple-infused sweet flavors to all kinds of dishes, including shrimp balls, fried rice, and even the classic beef noodle soup. In Taiwan Railways Administration’s special edition lunch boxes, pineapple is one of the side dishes.
Therefore, domestic prices of the fruit jumped 28% to an average NT$22.1 (80 cents) per kilogram in the March-June period, a three-year high. According to data provided by Chen, the value of pineapples sold locally rose by 17%. ‘Higher prices resulting from strong domestic demand led to higher profits for farmers,’ Chen said.
It is crucial to ask whether the increase in overseas demand will continue. Exporters are concerned about Japan’s stringent quality requirements and consumers’ preference for smaller, less sweet pineapples than those grown in Taiwan. Young Fu-fan, a grower from Tainan County in southern Taiwan, says the Chinese ban leaves Taiwan with little choice but to reassess its export markets for the fruit. ‘Farmers cannot expect to make ‘easy money’ from China anymore’, he stated.
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