Japan signs trade agreements with Taiwan despite ongoing dispute over nuclear food ban

  • The pacts pertain to customs clearances, patent exchanges, business partnerships, trade in medical equipment and joint research
PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 9:15pm

Japan signed five trade agreements with Taiwan on Friday, despite the ongoing ban on imports of Japanese food products that Taipei imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It had been feared that the ban, which is to be upheld following last week’s national referendum, could upset trade ties between the two sides.

Yet Taiwan-Japan Relations Association President Chiou I-jen and his Japanese counterpart, Mitsuo Ohashi, chairman of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association – the closest thing the two have to ambassadors in the absence of diplomatic ties – still signed one agreement and four memorandums of understanding at the Ambassador Hotel in Taipei, signalling their mutual desire to overlook the issue for now.

The agreement pertains to the speeding up of customs clearance process for goods traded between Japan and Taiwan, while the four MOUs deal with a wide range of trade issues, including the exchange of patent information, business partnerships, trade in medical equipment and materials, joint research, and cooperation in promoting small and medium-sized enterprises.

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All five were signed only six days after Taiwanese voters approved a referendum requiring the government to maintain a ban on food imports from Fukushima prefecture and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.

In campaigning ahead of last Saturday’s referendum and in the days since, much attention focused on whether its passage would drive a wedge between Japan and Taiwan, especially when they are otherwise working to cooperate more closely on security matters.

According to diplomatic insiders, Ohashi expressed regret over the referendum result when he visited Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday.

Tsai reportedly described bilateral ties as “stable” and “close,” and said Taiwan hopes Tokyo will support its bid to participate in the second round of accession talks to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation free trade agreement in which Japan plays a leading role.

In the trade talks, Taiwanese negotiators raised that issue, Chang Shu-ling, secretary general of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association, told a press conference after the signing ceremony. She also dismissed speculation that the food ban referendum would have any negative impact on bilateral relations, saying the trade agreements were a clear demonstration of close ties.

Japanese negotiators had asked Taiwan to ease the food ban on scientific grounds, while Taiwanese officials stressed the civic right of its people to affect policy through referendums.

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On Thursday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told the Diet that Tokyo did not rule out taking the matter to the World Trade Organisation, which has already ruled that South Korea’s import ban on seafood from Fukushima and other parts of Japan is “arbitrarily and unjustifiably” discriminatory. South Korea has appealed the ruling.

China, meanwhile, on Thursday lifted its ban on rice produced in Niigata Prefecture, but maintained restrictions on nine other prefectures.

Taiwan’s representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, previously said that if China eased its restrictions before Taiwan, the latter would be “embarrassed” because it would become the only place to retain a comprehensive ban on Japanese food products from regions affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster.