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Domestic Consumers, Overseas Supporters Grab up Taiwanese Pineapples After China Import Ban

FILE - Farmers sell pineapples at a stall by the road in Kaohsiung, Taiwan February 27, 2021.
FILE - Farmers sell pineapples at a stall by the road in Kaohsiung, Taiwan February 27, 2021.

Consumers in Taiwan and sympathizers overseas have gone on a pineapple buying spree this month to support local growers who were stung by a sudden ban on imports by the island’s political rival China and face a $50 million loss in business.

The General Administration of Customs in China announced the ban last month after saying it found “quarantine pests” in several shipments of pineapples from Taiwan last year.

Taiwanese consumers suspect China is using its economic might to warn their leaders over politics. China sees the self-ruled island as part of its territory, but Taiwanese said in 2019 government surveys that they prefer autonomy.

Feeding frenzy at home

By this week, social media campaigns and supermarket promotions in Taipei had given pineapples a new shelf life. Some outlets advertise the fruits as “freedom pineapples” in honor of Taiwan’s democracy – a contrast to China’s political system -- and others posted meter-high signs reading “domestically produced -- selling is hot”.

David Tsai, 55, of Taipei, made a beeline on Wednesday this week for the pineapples selling at $2.80 apiece at a Taipei outdoor market. He usually buys two or three per week but plans to add another two over the month of March. He suspects China’s ban was politically motivated.

“The price is just ordinary, nothing especially cheap, so this purchase is to express support,” said Tsai, who works in trade.

“I think communist China’s ban on the imports is unfair,” he said.

Overseas consumption

In Japan, traders have committed to taking a record 6,200 metric tons of Taiwanese pineapples so far this year to help offset the loss in exports to China, Taipei-based media outlets report.

Canadian and U.S. officials are using the internet this month to urge consumption of Taiwanese pineapples. Taipei-based Canadian Trade Office head Jordan Reeves went on social media with a picture of himself and colleagues around a pineapple pizza. The de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan posted Facebook pictures of pineapples at their Taipei offices.

All three countries have their own disputes with China.

“That in just a couple of days Taiwan is able to diversify their markets and produce a demand elsewhere is very indicative that China needs to rethink its long-term strategy before weaponizing trade,” Sean Su, an independent political consultant in Taipei, told VOA Thursday.

Festering political tension

China-Taiwan relations have worsened since 2016, when President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei with backing from a political party that takes a tough view on Beijing. China has claimed sovereignty over the island since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when the Nationalists lost to the Communists and fled to Taiwan. It insists that the two sides eventually unify.

Over the past five years, China has cut back Taiwan-bound tourism, persuaded some of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to switch allegiance and flown military aircraft through a corner of Taiwanese airspace.

The pineapple ban further hurts relations, Chiu Chui-cheng, spokesman for the Taiwan government’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council. He urged China to negotiate over any issues with farm products.

“For most Taiwanese agriculture and growers, [the ban] will cause harm and will just make people feel irritated but will not be good for long-term development of relations between the two sides,” Chiu told VOA on Thursday.

Taiwan’s inspectors took “strong” measures after China said the pineapples were unfit, the Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.

Last year Taiwanese exporters shipped $49.9 million worth of fresh or refrigerated pineapple to China, according to data from the government’s Council of Agriculture. Taiwanese fruit has a reputation for quality among Chinese consumers. Just 10% of Taiwan's pineapples are exported but 95% of those shipped overseas land in China.