I grew up in a rural area by the sea. For nearly twenty years, every time I returned back to my hometown, I wondered whether farmers and fishermen lived a dignified existence. Were they happy? Were their living conditions sanitary, harmonious and secure? Did these farmers hope that their own children continue the family trade? Are educational resources, medical facilities and income standards decided as if there is great difference in social standing between rural towns and cities? As the farming labor force ages, and more than 70% of income is generated from non-agricultural sectors with the majority moving overseas, are the livelihoods of farming families becoming more difficult? It is not necessary for me to provide complex data. By merely watching the increase of farmers and fishermen marrying foreign brides, we can see that the social status of young farmers and fishermen are becoming lower. The sponsoring organization has requested me to discuss “agriculture’s sustainable development”, and in my belief, there are five critical points, which are: the need for production and marketing structures of agricultural industries to drive competition; clear understanding of cross-strait agricultural competition; proper price fixing of agricultural products; correct disposal of agricultural resources; and efficient management by central and local governments. In the past fifty to sixty years, due to political and economic disputes, there has been an inability to reach consensus, must less implementation, of the five above-mentioned points. With the outburst of globalization and China’s magnetic attraction, production and marketing structures were torn because of political interests interfering into specialization, the China issue and because of hesitation to move forward, gradually decaying the domestic market. Under these circumstances, how is Taiwan’s agriculture to achieve sustainable development?
De-Politicizing and Leading Competition in Production and Marketing Structures
Taiwanese agricultural cooperatives and related non-profit groups are the main production and marketing groups in Taiwan. Their management systems are similar to individual companies, but they do not hold juridical status. High-level personnel are tied up by elections, and are divided in political factions with the lack of drive for urgent reform. Most seriously, some of these groups are designed to disobey market systems, and with the inability to have efficient supervisory groups to watch over these inconsistencies, we must give even more priority to self-reflection of these problems. Just recently on December 5, 2006, the Legislative Yuan’s Procedural Committee passed a bill that granted continuous employment for staff of agricultural, fisheries and water conservation personnel. Those that were given Grade A and B evaluations were granted continuous employment. Is this a responsible way to deal with the situation? In 2003 and 2004, those that received grade B evaluations were 99% and 97.7% respectively. Chairmen, presidents and other high-level personnel are elected without supervisory groups, and the majority of them are elected based on local factions and relationships. This type of system does not incite specialized executives to work in these groups. Before 2000, taking the water conservation group as an example, the chairman was appointed by the political party in power. After the power transfer of 2000, the Legislative Yuan changed the system of member selection to internal elections. However, in an area of less than 40 to 50 pings, we see a committee comprised of 432 members. The Executive Yuan has proposed amendments to rationalize the number of qualified memberships, but it has been turned down thirty times by the Procedural Committee, and it still hasn’t even passed through deliberations. Also before 2000, many water conservation groups donated properties to establish foundations. The rule was to grant priority to original donors by granting them lifelong chairmen positions. In many foundations, especially the water conservation groups, donated properties are now worth tens of billions of NT dollars, and are now in the hands of a small group of people. Those that are renouncing corruption are not really directing their attention to this area.
Cross Strait Agriculture: Active Management, Maintaining Taiwan Value
It is a universal value to expect a win-win situation in cross strait agriculture and trade. Since the 1989 opening of family visits across the strait, Taiwan’s agriculture has “gained little and lost massively”, and it can also be described as a “unilateral loss”. From 2005, NTD121.1 billion in agricultural capital has been registered to being invested in China, but the actual figure is NTD150 billion, roughly occupying 1/30 of Taiwan’s total investment in China (approximately USD150 billion/NTD5 trillion). Capital, talent and technology have moved overseas with no amassed profits returning. China might offer Taiwanese agricultural enterprises the opportunity to make profit, but will these “opportunities” become lesser for Taiwanese people and their children? Each sector greatly expects that China can provide a vast amount of business opportunity for the agricultural products market, but the reality proves these are not the expected results. For a long time, there has been a trade deficit in Taiwan of Chinese agricultural products. In 2005, the trade deficit was NTD6.7 billion – not including smuggled and third party imported products – and many believe that the real figure is actually NTD10 billion. Due to the “active opening and no management” of Taiwan’s agricultural technology, we are unable to compete with the lower quality, unsafe Chinese agricultural products, which prices are low and with endless cases of imitation and fabricated labels. Cross strait agricultural exchange can be called “three exits and one return”, which can be described as capital, technology and talent exiting, and cheap agricultural products competing with Taiwanese agriculture for business opportunities in Japan and other countries retuning. The words of Jia Qinglin, chairman of the People’s Consultative Conference, reflect better the reality. At the Cross Strait Agricultural Cooperation Forum in Hainan, China, he said, “We hope that our Taiwan compatriots help China’s new agricultural construction”. Former KMT Chairman Lian Chan echoed that Taiwan’s capital, technology and talent, integrated with China’s vast land, market and cheap labor could create a “win-win situation”. The problem is that shifting capital, technology, and talent to China means moving the majority of opportunities outside of Taiwan. Many have suggested following the examples of the Netherlands, Finland and Ireland because these countries have created a close economic and trade exchange with internal Europe, achieving economic growth. My solution is to first ask China to remove the 800 missiles and then we can talk. Their response is that it will be “unlikely”, clearly showing the real answer. “Taiwan” as a brand has its own commercial value, and to maintain this value, it is necessary to retain Taiwan’s national sovereignty and national security. Domestically, certain groups have opposed the arms budget and have sang the tune that after unification, national defense will be saved, and even some have said that Taiwanese agricultural products can be registered in China. Many don’t know that forsaking the brand name of Taiwan is losing by double.
Agricultural Products: Locking High-Value Markets, Resisting Mix-Ups
Due to globalization, product choices and prices are extremely important factors. Measuring the amount of wealth needed for transnational operations in proportion to industry marketing, technology and structure with possibility of transformation require a lengthy time. Without a structure and transformation that can touch the people, success is unlikely. Every year, Japan imports an enormous amount of agricultural products. Geographically, Taiwan is closer to Japan, but only 0.7% of our agricultural exports (not including food products) were transported to Japan in 2005, while China exported 12.9%. Taiwan’s zoo and botany products to Japan were USD2.14 billion in 1990. In 2005, it went down to USD1.05 billion, falling from Japan’s second largest importing country to number 13. Comparing other countries in Asia, except Japan, Taiwan’s agricultural products are priced the highest, which is why it has no choice but to market in high-priced markets. These markets include Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe, the U.S., Taiwan itself and also domestic China, only in high-priced markets. To enter into this type of markets require food safety and good outward appearance. “Freshness” is also the most important norm for agricultural products. Domestically, we must create a “fresh” consciousness among consumer groups toward national agricultural products. Another vital policy is product differentiation and quality certification. The current CAS is easily recognized for Chinese manufactured agricultural products. Internationally, price of Taiwanese manufactured products are priced higher than Chinese ones because of confidence in the product, and because of good impression and image. Furthermore, Chinese people’s mercifulness, observation to the law and responsibility senses are far inferior to Taiwan, therefore, it is natural to have price difference. On November 11, 2006, I proposed in the Legislative Yuan to change the CAS label to TAS, but some people said it touched on the unification and independence issue. Ignorance and non-interference has led to Taiwan and Chinese images being confused, and this has led to great loss. By placing political benefits above economic ones, how are our farmers going to survive?
Agricultural Resources: Considering International Opportunities, Effective Configuration
Taiwan’s agricultural development is facing a difficult situation. Moving overseas is the first necessary step to configuring limited resources. In order to achieve a breakthrough, it is necessary to reduce waste and create new opportunities. However, the current work done is insufficient, especially in listing agricultural dry areas, maintaining a price system, which have been discussed as necessary reforms, but there are no concrete solutions yet. Dry areas with spreading disease and excess use of pesticides critical affect energy resources, internal agricultural environment and prime costs. The use of water in the agricultural industry is the same, and the government must immediately develop a plan to deliver a complete system that can effectively use these valuable resources. Additionally, there is the problem of capital, besides being swallowed by China, the government must find how to provide enough capital that can assist farmers and fishermen manufacture and market the necessities, and also how to reduce extra production. The Agriculture Finance Bill has been created to stipulate on how to shut down production and on punishment, but it has not been passed by the Legislative Yuan, not even going through deliberation. We have taught in university for more than a quarter century, nearly 30 years, and we have deeply felt that agricultural education resources have been squandered. Many agricultural talents, due to control of factions and agricultural civic groups, have been unable to enter into the wholesale market. Taiwanese farmers are hard workers and willing to make sacrifices with years of accumulated practice and experience. Agricultural civic groups and terminal markets are only concerned about establishing relationships with both central and local governments, who provide them with financial assistance. This is why the government has not been able to make a suitable configuration of financial assistance.
Central and Local Politics: Emphasizing Economic Benefits, Responsible Innovation
The government wants to promote the beneficial and to abolish the harmful for the sake of farmers and fishermen. This has been unsuccessful because of idleness by the agencies in charge and also because of political interference. To give the example of agricultural park areas, which have already consumed a great amount of capital, still cannot attract businesses because there are no suitable or attractive incentives for them. No calculation of the prime costs, negligence of the effective assessment plan and lack of economic analysis all pose a great challenge. Many proposals are well intended, but their results are not optimum. To give an example of a certain group’s website, which has been built over two years and aimed to provide the best information for those that needed it. When I visited the website recently, I discovered I was the 27th person that browsed the website. Giving another example, the government has ruled that pigs cannot be raised near water conservation areas and environmental groups jointly worked to enforce this ban. At the beginning, tradesmen complied with the regulations, but soon after, they began to raise ducks. Many farmers receive government subsidies, but they continue disobeying the regulations. What do these types of actions represent? That the government is not thorough, and each administrative negligence is harmful to the sustainable development of Taiwan’s agriculture. As Taiwan has entered into a generation of service industries, Taiwan’s agriculture must also become service-oriented. Therefore, the system of individual relationship-based connections must be abolished. In this generation, design and marketing represent the key to success. The government must encourage diversity in products and marketing.
Key for Rebirth: Investing in Taiwan, Advancing into Finer Quality
In summary, Taiwan’s agricultural development faces many challenges. The main ones are: how to remove reform obstacles in production and marketing structures; how to prevent excess of resources transferring into China, how to rightly select the right products for higher-priced markets; how to use valuable agricultural resources efficiently; and lastly, how to reduce unreasonable control by agricultural groups. Since 1990, trade liberalization has pounded Taiwan and the price of agricultural land has continued to fall with labor wages hardly coming up. Farmers and groups relied for a long time on government subsidies. If this situation continues, Taiwan’s agricultural industry will appear like an economic burden. Facing globalization and China’s magnetic effect, investing in Taiwan is the only solution. In addition, there are visionary solutions that include: land tax and other levies; reducing land prices with an effective set of measures; attracting capital return to Taiwan and natural resources to stay in Taiwan; construct clean, beautiful agricultural villages with the same standards as city construction so that foreign tourists and technological talents may visit. Internationally, product location and division of labor in the industry has already shaped up, while in China, the impression of consumers is that they don’t care too much on quality. In the future, with Taiwan’s culture, the people’s self-discipline and industriousness, and democracy will convert M.I.T. (Made in Taiwan) a fine quality brand. In order to achieve sustainable development in Taiwan’s agriculture, a new quality image of Taiwan’s agricultural products must be created, so that a domestic and international high-priced market becomes the target, and for our farmers to have a future.