Taiwan's ban on the import of around 3,000 products sourced from China is costing European companies roughly US$100 million in terms of additional shipping costs and lost revenues, officials of the largest European business organization in the country said yesterday.
"(The import ban is a) clear violation of the WTO agreement. In theory, there should be no import ban at all," said Dirk Sanger, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei.
Currently, Taiwan bans the import of 3,000 items from China but not from other WTO members, Chamber members said as they disclosed their latest WTO-compliance monitor. The quarterly review aimed to track and enhance Taiwan's WTO compliance for the benefit of its members and governments, ECCT said.
"It's a bit of a headache for some companies," noted John Pickles, chairman of the ECCT's WTO Committee.
"A lot of Taiwanese, American, and European manufacturers in China want to export their products all over the world - including Taiwan."
The import ban - the restriction covered electronic items, food and milk products, and car parts to name a few - had forced a number of companies to divert special product lines to other more expensive and less competitive manufacturing hubs, Pickles said.
"That's US$100 million (in lost revenues) per year, and that's only going to increase in the coming years as China (continues to rise as a) manufacturing powerhouse," ECCT Chief Executive Officer Guy Wittich warned.
"Of course, we met with (Taiwan) government officials and (even raised the issue in) Brussels but at the moment, the government is very reluctant to open up."
Out of the 3,000 restricted items, 50 made it to the ECCT's three-year-old "wish list." Of the 50 products, only 24 were stricken off Taiwan's list of restricted China-made items, Sanger continued.
"For the last year-and-a-half, we've seen no movement at all," Wittich lamented, "and there's no indication that it's going to be resolved anytime soon."
In addition to the import ban, the WTO-compliance monitor also pointed out that Taiwan had yet to accede to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement. Taiwan's accession, said Pickles, had been hampered by China's request to revise the wording of Taiwan's GPA accession documents which the latter found unacceptable.
In the meantime, foreign bidders who wanted to participate in Taiwan's major infrastructure projects were almost always left out in the cold, he said.
"(The Taiwan) government is also very anxious to join this GPA because this will enable Taiwan bidders to participate in overseas infrastructure projects," Pickles said.
"The problem is China (which raised) nomenclature issues. The EU and we ourselves are trying to find some wording arrangement (that will help break the stalemate)."
Those non-tariff barriers were hurting not only foreign companies but Taiwanese enterprises and consumers as well, Sanger said.
"If European products produced in China could not be imported to Taiwan, you - the consumer - end up paying more. (It's the consumers) who are being penalized for those regulations," said the ECCT chairman.
"The same thing happens with GPA-related issues. At the moment, international participation in public infrastructure projects is limited - sometimes, even excluded. That means that competition for such projects is limited, and if competition is limited, the quality goes down and the price goes up."
Taxpayers, he said, would end up footing the bill.
"We (European companies) are not asking for special benefits; we are asking for an open, level playing field," Sanger said.
"We have companies throughout the world that can work under the same conditions and offer the best product and the best price. The best offer (ought) to win, and at the moment, that situation does not exist."