Friday, July 11, 2014

Pilot Zones: Does Ma government plan to destroy Taiwan agricultural products?

As you can see, the number of people identifying as "Taiwanese" is reaching record highs, just as the number of people identifying as Taiwanese-Chinese and Chinese is reaching record lows. This is from the former political warfare university, but my experience is that it is pretty close to reality. Among the young even more would identify as Taiwanese. 

The free economic zones are looking more and more like a plot to flood Taiwan with cheap China crap and destroy its agriculture. A few days ago, after noting that the government is attempting to focus the discussion on trivia, a piece in the Taipei Times observed that Taiwan's competitiveness lies in its ability to distinguish itself from other places:
The heart of Taiwan’s agricultural competitiveness lies in technology, management and certification, because this is what allows it to produce the high-quality agricultural products that make Made in Taiwan (MIT) products so popular overseas. It took many people many years of hard work to achieve these results, and it is the only thing that allows Taiwan to resist competition from cheaper agricultural products from other countries in face of ever-increasing market liberalization.
So what's the current KMT government proposal? To destroy all that has been carefully built up:
Under the proposed project, which is stalled in the legislature, 830 agricultural products from China banned from being imported to Taiwan would be allowed to enter the pilot zones to be processed as food products.

[Council of Agriculture head] Chen rejected the idea that food products made of agricultural materials imported from China should bear labels indicating the origin of the material to distinguish them from those made of Taiwan-grown agricultural ingredients.
Chen even said that "People should not view liberalization as a scheme to destroy the nation’s agricultural sector" which is basically a giant neon sign pointing out what the pilot zone scheme is.

I've talked before about how the Ma Administration deploys neoliberal rhetoric to advance the annexation of Taiwan to China politically and economically. Here is a good example. The government terms this policy of letting in Chinese agricultural products into the pilot zones and not labeling their origin "liberalization." But that "liberalization" is a policy that can only benefit China, not Taiwan. Taiwan's agricultural reputation comes from its ability to distinguish itself from its neighboring nations -- but this proposal obliterates that crucial competitive edge of Taiwan. The only reason for not clearly labeling the origin of ingredients is to obscure it and benefit China -- no other reason exists. Thus, in the rhetoric of the Ma Administration, subordination of Taiwan to China's interests = liberalization.

Let's hope the DPP can really run with this in November.

TT has run some good pieces on the pilot zones recently. Here's a comparative discussion of the mixed results from such zones.
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Readin said...

A good free market capitalist should support labeling the products accurately as to whether they come from Taiwan or China.

The theory that predicts such wonderful benefits of supply and demand depends on three assumptions

1. People have information to make decisions.
2. People are rational.
3. The market is large.

Truth in labeling supports #1. One might argue that it is burdensome but in this case the burden of labeling the products is already there. It's only a question of whether the products should be labeled with more honestly or less.

TaiwanJunkie said...

I am now Ma Ying Jeou's number 1 fan!!!

8 years of A Bien took us from just less than 40% to less than 45% in people identifying themselves as only Taiwanese. Just 6 years of Ma now increased this to 60%. When Ma fully complete his second term maybe we'll be almost 70%.

The great law of unintended consequences strikes once again.

Anonymous said...

Re: whitewolf link:

One of Chang’s closest friendships is with Hu Shiying, the son of the Communist Party’s most well known propaganda chief....Mr Hu’s ties also extend to the KMT, judging by the flattering calligraphy message that hangs in the hallway of his luxury Beijing condominium, which is signed by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeoh.

I wonder if Chang is the guy that drives around Taipei in the car that has two PRC flags hanging off the roof and blasts out the PRC anthem(?) on large speakers.

10 years ago that guy would be in jail for being a commie bandit, but now its ok.

Anonymous said...

also this:

Chang’s right-hand man at his China Unification Promotion Party is a former general, Lee Kuo-yung, who retired last year as president of the Taiwanese defence ministry’s Chung Cheng Armed Forces Preparatory School.

Anonymous said...

"German director makes 40 minute propaganda film on why China owns the Senkakus."

Had a look at his company's website.

It may be more accurate to say

German director makes 40 propaganda films on why China owns the world.

"it is both sick and hilarious."

Definitely sick. So sick that I had to stop and didn't get to see the hilarious parts.

"Over the past decade or so, something disturbing has been happening in the Chinese community media in this country(Australia). The Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda bureau has been buying up radio stations and newspapers across the country and channelling the voice of Beijing into them from editorial offices in China. Increasingly, topics on which press discussion is forbidden in China have vanished also from the Chinese language media in our own country."

Maybe this directors company is part of CCP investment in American media.

Mike Fagan said...

People want accurate labeling and the government has absolutely no legitimate interest whatsoever in preventing the market from supplying that.

Regarding your equation of who benefits from trade, Taiwan or China: the problem is that you equate "Taiwan" with only one set of people, the producers, yet you ignore the consumers.

In my past two trips to the traditional market my veggie bill has shot up due to the weather. I would usually pay somewhere between NT$200 and NT$250 for three carrots, four broccoli florets and two or three cauliflower florets. I am now paying between NT$350 and NT$400 for the same items.

So for me, and plenty of Taiwanese with similar preferences to me, I would be measurably better off if I could get say, Chinese broccoli at cheaper prices than Taiwanese (or New Zealand) broccoli. Of course there are the necessary caveats about food safety certification and accurate labeling, but there is no reason - other than political interference - that this cannot be achieved through the market.

Michael Turton said...

I would be measurably better off if I could get say, Chinese broccoli at cheaper prices than Taiwanese (or New Zealand) broccoli.

Only if your idea of "standard of living" is confined entirely to measurement of the price of broccoli on a few days in the winter. For individuals who actually live in a society with people other than themselves, this idea of yours is what is wrecking living standards wherever it is implemented.

Mike Fagan said...

No actually, the broccoli example was just that: an example. The broader point is that, so long as food imports are accurately labelled - and the market can do this so long as the government is told to piss off - then (a) domestic producers will not necessarily be put out of business, and (b) consumers will have an additional choice, and with that choice the possibility to make marginal savings by buying a variety of cheaper fruits and vegetables.

Of course, the prior point is, as you correctly point out, that the government may not allow accurate labeling of imports. Because they are cunts. But we all knew that already, and it only reflects my broader point; the only people who fear free trade are those on the KMT side who want to use trade as an instrument of policy, and those on the DPP side (like you), who would like to restrict trade for your own commie purposes.

Readin said...

The broader point is that, so long as food imports are accurately labelled - and the market can do this so long as the government is told to piss off

If all humans were geniuses who thought rationally and lived forever, I could agree with you on this. Perhaps given time some company would step in and provide a "seal of approval" for labels and we would know that if said company approved the the label is correct. But how do we know the approval is genuine? How long does such a company need to gain confidence? What motivation does said company have to maintain that reputation instead of making a quick buck by selling out (given that the owner is going to die and the CEO retire anyway and they can't live off that reputation forever)?

Again, if people were geniuses and if people actually cared enough about everything to keep track of it all and investigate it all, then perhaps the market would eventually get a handle on things. But I don't have that much confidence in people. It's the same reason I don't believe most conspiracy theories - people just aren't smart enough to do most of them.

I tend to agree when people say that government inserts itself in too many places - and I certainly recognize that government is force not reason and that its power comes through violence against anyone who resist.

But I support truth-in-labeling laws so long as they are limited to easily provable and disprovable facts.

Mike Fagan said...


I am using several products right now that have all been certified for their quality and safety by third parties. Third party certification is a global industry and a vast number of products were being tested for their safety by third party organizations (e.g. UL) since before you or I were born.

You are in the position of pondering whether something is possible more than a century after it already began.

"What motivation does said company have to maintain that reputation instead of making a quick buck by selling out (given that the owner is going to die and the CEO retire anyway and they can't live off that reputation forever)?"

What?! Are you serious?

Anonymous said...

That German movie is hilarious. Japanese helping Koreans resist a Tang Dynasty invasion gets twisted into a Japanese invasion of China. Taiwan is shown as Chinese territory during the Ming Dynasty. In the graphics on the Senkaku Islands, the Japanese flag is flying on the end of a sword while the Chinese flag is on a flagpole. Amazing!

Readin said...

@Mike Fagan

I think we'll just have to disagree. UL isn't that well-known among the general public and without running an experiment I don't think we can prove one way or another how a free market without minimum labeling requirements, safety standards, etc. would behave.

We had freer markets in the past, but things were different in at least two significant ways. First, things were a lot simpler in that you could generally look at what you were buying and tell what it was. When you bought pork the butcher cut it up in front of you and you could see what the pig looked like before it was killed. There was no question of origin because the food was local. There was no question of an overdose of antibiotics on the pig because they didn't exist.

On the other hand people didn't have complex tools tools, the internet and such, to help them track bad actors. For example where I live you can sign up for a service that provides customer reviews of local contractors (but you can't always tell whether those reviews are legit).

So given a truly free market perhaps your right. My experiences however lead me to believe that no one will have enough time to do due diligence on all their purchases.

Mike Fagan said...


You seem to be confused; third party certification is a substitute for due diligence. When I buy a laptop that is certified by UL, I assume (correctly) that it has passed electrical safety standards and therefore do not bother to waste valuable time on the question myself.

Now there is one point to be admitted before I go on. In many cases, third-party certification companies (UL became the first, I believe) operate alongside and in addition to government safety regulatory agencies. In particular, the government stipulates certain requirements, and the certification company develops the standards and testing procedures to meet those legal requirements. So there is a large amount of interplay between third party certifiers and government. Legal punishments stipulated by acts of government also operate alongside all of this too, so a company that develops faulty electronic goods can be subject to a scale of punishments from fines upwards. Historically however, the government involvement came later in the story after companies like UL had already developed and were applying standards and appropriate tests.

The theoretical logic however, is the same as it is elsewhere in market production; what keeps a third-party certifier from "selling out" and approving products they know to be faulty is that, should they be found out (clue: their competitors are also consumers), then first they will lose their business, and second they may be prosecuted for fraud. So free competition keeps them on the straight and narrow. There is always, of course, the risk of collusion between one or several companies and the government to instantiate a cartel - but that is not a problem unique to third party certification.

"...without running an experiment I don't think we can prove one way or another how a free market without minimum labeling requirements, safety standards, etc. would behave. "

It's not a question of "proving" how the market would behave. We can prove a priori how the market could or perhaps is likely to behave, but people are people and there is thus always a chance that somebody somewhere is an idiot and makes a cock up that has implications for everyone else. But in a sense that is an even bigger problem for government regulation, since once the government decides to get involved there is no alternative. Think of the police; when they commit crimes, as they often do, who do you call? They are already the police, and your only choice is the press - and that is a pit of vipers too.

"There was no question of origin because the food was local."

Much of it (e.g. perishables) still is, for practical economic reasons, but I for one am thankful to be liberated from the tyranny of geography. That I can eat mostly local fruits and vegetables but have the option to buy say, foreign breakfast cereals and beef from Australia / New Zealand / the United States is a choice I am very happy to have. Lots of Taiwan people don't eat beef, for reasons I understand, but they deprive themselves of arguably the single best source of protein we know of. Choice is a fine thing; nobody is forced to buy X if they don't want to.

"There was no question of an overdose of antibiotics on the pig because they didn't exist."

More competition please.

"On the other hand people didn't have complex tools tools, the internet and such, to help them track bad actors."

That's right, but the other thing that has grown is political involvement in food safety. Call me a cynic, but when that cooking oil scandal occurred last year (the culprit was in Changhua IIRC), did it not occur to you that he merely failed to pay off the right people? If so, how would we know? Would you trust the media to go digging on that? The Liberty Times? Ha! The Apple Daily - possibly, but even they might have their own connections to protect.

STOP Ma said...

Government regulation of food labelling for "country of origin" is necessary.

In Canada (and I'm sure in other countries), this is the law.

I look for the country of origin label (next to the price) of fresh produce all of the time. While it is very difficult to find consumer merchandise that is not from China, I regularly refuse to buy produce and food that is imported from China.

Without regulation, you will not have proper labelling of food goods coming from China and other undesirable locations. It's as simple as that.

This is an area which government has an important role for the consumer.

Mike Fagan said...

@Stop Ma

Or so you assert - with neither logic or evidence to support that assertion.

Accurate food labeling is something I would like to have too, yes; but the dispute is not over the aim, the dispute is over the means of achieving that aim. I do not think a monopoly regulator is the right way to go about it.