Tokyo and Taipei to hold trade talks in wake of controversial referendum result to maintain import ban on Japanese food

  • Voters on the self-ruled island want to maintain a ban on imports of Japanese food from areas affected by fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster
  • Japan has vented over the development, with a top government spokesman calling it ‘extremely disappointing’
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 10:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 12:09am

Taiwan and Japan will hold annual trade talks in Taipei this week, after a weekend referendum result on the self-ruled island that could have a negative impact on bilateral relations.

In one of seven referendums held on Saturday, voters in Taiwan called for maintaining the ban on imports of Japanese food products from five prefectures – Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba – that were affected by radioactive fallout from the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Taiwanese Premier William Lai said on Monday that his government will respect the results of the referendums.

“I personally see referendums with a positive attitude. They are a good way to resolve differences,” Lai told reporters, while declining to comment on whether the result will undermine Japan-Taiwan relations.

The island’s representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, earlier warned that if the referendum was approved, Taiwan would have a “grave price” to pay.

That “grave price” could include affecting Taiwan’s bid to join a Japan-led trade pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Taiwan has expressed its desire to participate in the second-round of accession talks on numerous occasions.

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Earlier on Monday, Japan vented over the development, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying, “It’s extremely disappointing that Taiwanese consumers have yet to be fully convinced” about the safety of food products from five prefectures in eastern and northeastern Japan, including Fukushima.

“We will use every opportunity available and keep asking [Taiwan] to lift the ban at an early date,” he said.

Japan’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan Mikio Numata, in a message on the Facebook page of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, also expressed regret, but said he remains committed to preventing the issue from being used as “a political tool to undermine the sound relationship between Japan and Taiwan and economic exchanges”.

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“We will continue efforts to let our friends in Taiwan understand that Japanese food products are safe and hope the restrictions will soon be lifted,” he said.

Sources familiar with the upcoming two-day talks between Tokyo and Taipei said that both sides are planning to sign at least six agreements or memorandums of understanding.

They will cover a wide range of areas from cooperation in management of medical equipment and materials, joint research by young researchers, and mutual support and advancement of cooperation of small and medium-size businesses.

Taiwan has been seeking to sign a full-fledged free trade agreement with Japan. However, the ban on the imports of Japanese food products has stalled negotiations on the trade pact.

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Despite the absence of diplomatic ties, which were severed in 1972, the unofficial relationship between Taiwan and Japan has remained robust.

Japan is Taiwan’s third-largest trading partner after China, including Hong Kong, while Taiwan is Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner.

Bilateral trade totalled US$62.7 billion last year, up about 4 per cent from the previous year. Japanese investment in Taiwan last year also increased more than 84 per cent from the previous year to US$649 million.