By Marcin Jerzewski èçå¤
Lithuania, arguably one of Taiwan’s strongest supporters in Europe, remains the target of Chinese negative economic policy tools. In retaliation against the Baltic nation for allowing Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital, China removed Lithuania from its customs register and reportedly instigated a business boycott, ordering multinationals to sever ties with the country.
As cereals are Lithuania’s biggest export product to China, farmers and food producers have been particularly affected by the ongoing feud.
Therefore, as Taiwan seeks to capitalize on the new opening of its relations with Central and Eastern Europe, it is imperative that the nation designs effective, efficient and flexible channels to foster cooperation with the agriculture and food sectors of the Lithuania.
The strong representation of Lithuanian food producers at the just concluded international food fair, Food Taipei, marks an important step in the right direction. The Lithuanian pavilion was one of the 15 national pavilions presented at the fair and was a sign of a newly established but steadily increasing cooperation between the Taiwan Foreign Trade Development Council (TAITRA) and the Lithuanian Enterprise Development Agency and rural markets.
At the same time, collaboration with Lithuanian farmers and food producers should not be done on an ad hoc basis; Institutionalization of the relationship will remain crucial to ensure the sustainability of these ties as Lithuanian exporters learn about the characteristics of the Taiwanese market.
Therefore, cross-sectoral cooperation between TAITRA, the Council of Agriculture, the National Development Council and other executive agencies is necessary for a holistic and nuanced approach to linkage.
The government’s efforts to become a substitute market for part of the Lithuanian agricultural exports interrupted by China are consistent with consumption trends at the individual level. Wheat exports – Lithuania’s main export to China – are a good example. Compared to other grains, wheat consumption has gradually increased in Taiwan, while the country depends on imports for more than 99 percent of its wheat.
Nonetheless, imports remain undiversified, with 92 percent of the unprocessed wheat purchased by the Taiwan Flour Millers’ Association from the United States in MY 2020-2021. Heavy dependence on imported grains is one of the main obstacles Taiwan faces in its quest for a stable food supply, and low levels of diversification exacerbate this vulnerability.
Therefore, a more rapid opening of the Taiwanese market to Lithuanian grains could be mutually beneficial.
Dairy products stand out as another potential area of ââcommon interest. Gintaras Bertasius, chairman and managing director of Vilkyskiu Pienine, one of the largest dairy producers in the Baltic region, lamented in a recent interview that âwhile previous governments encouraged [our company] to go to China, it is a fact that our exports are now stopping.
Demand for fluid milk has continued to increase in Taiwan over the past decade, as has demand for yogurt made from fresh milk.
As domestic milk production declines, imports from New Zealand are expected to increase due to the provisions of the New Zealand Economic Cooperation Agreement with the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Although this could potentially limit the viability of fresh milk imports from Lithuania due to the lack of duty-free access to the Taiwanese market, Lithuanian producers could still benefit from positive trends in imports and consumption. processed dairy products and cheese – which are subject to proportionately lower import tariffs, in particular.
Agriculture is also a politically important sector.
Vilnius’ quest to deepen ties with Taipei through its “values-based foreign policy” has received mixed reception from the Lithuanian public, which sees it largely as an overly confrontational partisan initiative by the government of the day.
A November survey commissioned by LRT, the Lithuanian national broadcaster, found that the country’s policy towards Taiwan and China received the support of only 33.5% of those polled, while the disapproval rate was 40. , 5%.
Given that the ballot took place before China’s economic coercion, it is likely that the disapproval rate will rise further.
The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVZS) is the largest opposition party and the second largest group in the Lithuanian parliament. It was also the only party that had not sent any of its members to Taiwan as part of the Baltic legislative delegation.
Giedrius Surplys, an LVZS lawmaker who oversaw a huge expansion of Sino-Lithuanian agricultural cooperation as Minister of Agriculture in the previous government, called the delegation an “indoctrination mission” and called on the government to coalition to ensure that Vilnius can maintain positive relations with Taipei and Beijing.
Governments come and go, while people stay. That is why it is important that in this time of economic uncertainty, Taiwan shows agility and reliability, and enlists a broad coalition of actors in Lithuania.
It is also important to recognize that the incumbents of the ruling coalition notice the sensitivity of cooperation in the agricultural and food sectors.
Matas Maldeikis, head of the Parliamentary Group for Relations with Taiwan, told the Open Parliament Forum in Taipei: âIf Taiwan opens up the market for these products, it could send a clear message that we can make business politically beneficial.
While the government has allowed imports of Lithuanian grains and pulses, Baltic nation exporters remain negatively affected by the obscurity of the Bureau of Plant and Animal Health Inspection and Quarantine standards for phytosanitary certification. and fumigation.
As Svajunas Banelis, director of agricultural commodity trading company Linas Agro, told LRT in an interview last month: âThe Taiwanese market is interesting, but so far unknown.
This sentiment underlines the need for sustained awareness among farmers and food producers in Lithuania so that quality control issues and other procedures can be harmonized.
Agricultural and food products are generally characterized as low added value, and Lithuanian stakeholders have expressed their desire to deepen cooperation with Taiwan in the field of high value added high tech manufacturing, especially semiconductors. . Nonetheless, given the current industrial capacity gap between the two countries, bolstering Lithuania’s technological prowess will be a long game.
To persuade the Lithuanian public that cooperation with Taiwan can bring tangible benefits, Taipei must act quickly to resolve the most pressing issues. Trade in agricultural and food products figures prominently among them.
A little bread and cheese with friends can go a long way.
Marcin Jerzewski is a researcher at the Taiwan NextGen Foundation, a policy think tank based in Taipei and Chiayi.
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