A person holds a grouper in Tainan in an undated photograph.
Photo courtesy of the Tainan City Government via CNA
By Yang Yuan-ting and Jonathan Chin / Staff reporter, with staff writer
Taiwan might file a complaint with the WTO against a Chinese ban on grouper imports, the Council of Agriculture （COA） said yesterday, after China claimed that it had detected the banned chemicals malachite green and crystal violet in fish imported from Taiwan.
The ban, announced on Friday and starts tomorrow, is the latest in a series of restrictions China imposed on Taiwanese farm products, including pineapples, custard apples and java apples.
Taiwan had called the bans unfair and politically motivated.
Malachite green and crystal violet are organic dyes used to exterminate parasites and treat viral infections on fish farms. Taiwan has banned their use in the fishing industry.
COA Minister Chen Chi-chung （陳吉仲） told a news conference that the substances China claims to have found have not been detected for five years in Taiwan.
The new ban followed China’s unfounded allegations of impurities in fish imports from two aquafarms in Pingtung County late last year, said Chen, who was speaking via teleconference, as he was isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
However, none of the claimed impurities were found at the aquafarms, he added.
Should China continue to ignore scientific evidence gathered by Taiwan, the COA might challenge Beijing at the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee, he said.
Grouper exports have declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the COA has been seeking to increase the share of domestically farmed groupers on the Taiwanese market from 30 percent to 60 percent, he said.
Beijing’s ban is at odds with the internationally accepted practice to return or destroy tainted agricultural products in such situations, Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine Director-General Tu Wen-jane （杜文珍） said.
When Taiwanese authorities found sharpbelly originating in China to contain malachite green, no import ban was implemented, COA officials said.
The COA would first appeal the grouper ban directly, even though China has not responded to scientific data Taiwan gathered in response to last year’s bans, they said.
The Mainland Affairs Council expressed regret and dissatisfaction at the grouper ban, calling it harmful to the legitimate interests of Taiwanese aquafarmers.
“We call on China to rescind this ban to facilitate the resumption of normal dialogue and trade across the Taiwan Strait,” it said. “Allowing a technicality to affect cross-strait ties serves only to inflame Taiwanese anger at Beijing’s bullying.”
Commenting on condition of anonymity, a fish farm operator said that the import ban, although unwelcome, did not come as a surprise.
After last year’s fruit bans, “grouper farmers have expected that sooner or later, China would pull something like this… We will deal with it head-on,” they said.
Additional reporting by Chung Li-hua