Beijing-Taipei Relations Get Prickly

Pineapple plantation in Minhsiung, Taiwan, 2017. Photo credit: FredN, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

WORD ARRIVES FROM our man in fruit and veg that Taipei is not taking the rough end of the pineapple, as the Australians say, when it comes to Beijing’s ban on Taiwanese exports of the large juicy tropical fruit to the mainland.

At the start of this month, the General Administration of Customs started refusing entry to Taiwanese pineapples, citing pests. Taiwanese pineapples are susceptible to some forms of mealybugs and thrips. However, Taipei’s view is that the incidence is minimal and that China is indulging in fake biosafety by banning all pineapples, and that the action is political.

Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, counters that calling the move political smears the mainland, which does not get either side anywhere.

Taiwan consumes around 90% of the pineapples it grows, exporting the remaining 10%, overwhelmingly to the mainland. Our man tells us that Taiwan is the world’s sixth-largest exporter of pineapples with a 3% share of the global market, a trade worth some $65 million in 2019 and growing fast. China buys around four-fifths of Taiwan’s fresh and frozen fruit exports in normal times.

Taiwanese have responded to the pineapple ban by clearing grocery shelves and market stalls of local pineapples, while restauranteurs are doing their bit by adding pineapple to their recipes. Japanese and Canadian diplomats have been photographed next to pineapples in support. It was a Canadian who first thought of putting pineapple on pizza, apparently. Who knew?

The hashtag #FreedomPineapples has appeared on social media, echoing the #FreedomWine hashtag that emerged in Australia during that country’s recent contretemps with China. It is also a more distant echo of Freedom fries, as some Americans re-branded French fries in the wake of some perceived slight by Paris after 9/11.

China’s main fruit exports to Taiwan are apples, but it was a small trade worth barely $6m in 2019, so tit for tat retaliation seems unlikely. After pineapples, sugar apples are next largest fruit export to the mainland from Taiwan, which has developed a pineapple-flavoured hybrid as if the knobby, custard-flavoured fruit is not sweet enough in the first place.

If Beijing chooses to escalate from prickly to knobby, this could get very sticky indeed.

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Filed under Agriculture, China-Taiwan, Trade

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