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COA minister defends FEPZs against local criticism

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) yesterday during the cabinet's weekly meeting defended the Free Economic Pilot Zones (FEPZs) program against Kaohsiung and Tainan deputy mayors' criticisms, saying that people should read through the draft bill on the FEPZs before criticizing it.

Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Lee Yung-te (李永得), who represents the city at the weekly Cabinet meeting, said the FEPZs' “agriculture value added program” will cause a loss of NT$170 billion to Taiwan's agricultural industry.

According to the Executive Yuan, the agriculture value added program aims to develop the nation's agriculture industry by utilizing Taiwan's agricultural technology and talent to innovate for a higher value for agricultural products. Relaxing regulations to allow ornamental fish businesses and other value added industries to set up operation bases within the pilot zones is part of the FEPZs draft bill.

A source in the Executive Yuan said that during the meeting Lee argued that the COA is exaggerating the value of output of ornamental fish producers and that he made the criticism that the FEPZs program does not have a 'broad vision.”

Finance Minister Joins Defense

The source said Lee and Tainan Deputy Mayor Yen Chun-tso (顏純左) criticized the FEPZs draft bill for authorizing local governments to pick an area land in the cities and then request that the Executive Yuan allow it to becoming part of the FEPZs program. The pair further claimed that the bill allows foreigners to enjoy lower taxes when selling their products in Taiwan.

Chen responded that he is “surprised” that Lee quoted the wrong statistics for his argument. Lee said “if you want to criticize the bill, you should complete reading the bill and understand the bill before raising objections.”

Sun echoed Chen's defense, saying that all the regulations regarding land expropriations for joining the program have long been removed from the draft bill.

Finance Minister Chang Sheng-ford (張盛和) said there is no such taxation decrease. Chang said the free economic pilot zones are defined as outside the customs territory.

Chang explained that the products will be exported after the ingredients are processed in the pilot zones, therefore, customs duties will not be levied. If the products are being sold in Taiwan, then they will have to pay tax and tariff duties, Chang said, adding that the regulations are applicable to agricultural products.

Cabinet spokesman Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) told reporters that the atmosphere in the meeting was intense, noting that, however, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) did not comment on the interaction between Chen and local government officials.

Chen later told a press conference that the government's agricultural agency will “definitely” not do anything to harm the nation's agricultural industry. “I strongly protest against anyone who accuses us of harming the nation's agricultural industry,” he added.

Chen said that according to the draft bill, if a manufacturer in the pilot zone wants to import restricted ingredients for its products, then it has to use the same quantity of ingredients sourced in Taiwan.

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