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An employee prepares pineapple juice at the Courtyard restaurant at the Marriott hotel in Taipei. Photo: AFP

Taiwan gets creative with pineapples to offset Beijing’s ban

  • Beijing imposed a ban on the fruit on March 1, citing the discovery of pests, sending panic among farmers
  • Social media has since been filled with calls for consumers to buy pineapples, while restaurants are coming up with ever more ways to add the fruit to their menus
Beijing’s ban on pineapple imports from Taiwan has sparked a flood of buying of the fruit and forced restaurants to come up with inventive new menu choices but it has also left many questioning Taipei’s overwhelming economic reliance on its giant neighbour.

While much of the island’s pineapple crop is consumed at home, 90 per cent of its overseas shipments head for sale in the vast mainland Chinese market.

However, that leaves its farmers at the mercy of Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if needed.

On March 1, Beijing imposed a ban on pineapples citing the discovery of pests, sending panic among the fruit’s farmers fearing for their livelihoods.

“This is a political issue that we farmers are unable to resolve,” said plantation owner Min Lee-ming, as dozens of workers rushed to pluck, trim and box up the fruits in Taishan, a rural part of southern Pingtung county known locally as “Pineapple Town”.

“We just want to live a stable life and we need to make ends meet,” he said.

The ban led the government in Taipei to put out a call for solidarity – and the people of Taiwan responded.


Social media has filled with calls for consumers to buy pineapples, while restaurants are coming up with ever more ways to add the fruit to their menus.

Among the food choices now on offer are pineapple salmon pasta, pineapple seafood rolls, pineapple shrimp balls with red curry fried rice, pineapple chicken and bento boxes featuring the fruit with meat.

A government-declared goal of selling 20,000 extra tonnes of the fruit domestically achieved its target in just four days, helped by major local conglomerates who jumped on large orders to boost their profile.

A farmer harvests pineapples in Pingtung county, Taiwan. Photo: AFP

Sunny Liao, a 53-year-old businesswoman, was among recent diners at a hotel in Taipei now offering 20 pineapple themed dishes and drinks.

She said she wanted to see tensions lowered between Taiwan and Beijing and favoured the two sides talking, but the latest move has left her furious.


“I think all Taiwanese are angry at the ban and I feel farmers have become cannon fodder to be sacrificed,” she said.

The Taishan region sends about 70 per cent of its harvest across the Taiwan Strait and farmers are now scrambling to find new markets.


“We’ve depended too heavily on China,” said Chen Yu-nung, 30, who runs a fruit packaging factory. “We shouldn’t have put all our eggs in one basket.”

Taiwan’s 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by mainland Chinese forces. Relations have worsened since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen who views Taiwan as a de facto sovereign nation.

But despite the increase in tensions, bilateral trade rose 13.5 per cent year on year to US$216 billion in 2020, including US$1 billion worth of produce, according to Taiwan’s official data.

Taipei has rejected China’s claims over pests in the pineapple shipments, saying 99.8 per cent of imports in recent years had passed inspection.

The south, where most of Taiwan’s pineapples are grown, is the traditional heartland of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Political figures were quick to liken the ban to heavy tariffs China placed on certain Australian products, including wine, when relations between those two countries took a dive.

“Remember Australia’s Freedom Wine?” tweeted foreign minister Joseph Wu. “I urge like-minded friends around the globe to stand with Taiwan and rally behind the FreedomPineapple.”

After the pineapple ban, will Beijing’s sweeteners tempt Taiwan’s farmers?

Back in Taishan, farmers say they have been delighted by the domestic drive to buy more pineapples.

But they caution against early declarations of victory given the harvest has only just begun.

“Next month is when we will know if we have won or lost,” Min said. “Everyone is very nervous”.

“I am worried the domestic buying spree won’t last when the harvest peaks next month,” said Lee Bai-wei, 28, saying half his crop would usually go to China.

Taiwanese chefs have come up with interesting ways to add pineapple to their dishes. Photo: AP

Tseng Chin-yun, a 60-year-old rice farmer, said she believed it was time for Taiwan to diversify where it sells its products to.

“We need to be stronger and stand on our own,” she said. “Taiwan is an independent country and we can’t always rely on others.”

College student Hsu Ying-chih, 21, works part-time in the fruit packaging factory and has seen shifts dry up the last two weeks.

But he does not think Taiwan should cave to Chinese pressure.

“Taiwan is a country and ‘one China’ is unacceptable,” he said.

“If we concede in order to hold talks on agricultural issues, they will push the envelope further in other areas.”