Taiwanese people and businesses are going on a buying spree after China announced a ban on Taiwanese pineapple imports last Friday.

The surging demand for pineapples at home has surpassed the total export that was supposed to be sold to China this year, Premier Su Tseng-chang said Tuesday. Su did not provide specific figures, but agriculture minister Chen Chi-chung announced a total of 41,687 tonnes in domestic orders over the past four days.

Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, Taiwan’s state-owned alcohol manufacturer, said today it is stepping up production of pineapple-flavored beer and launching products like sparking wine and juice that use the fruit. Local food companies say they are adding pineapples to their confectionery products.

Taiwan exports 10% of its fresh pineapple output every year. In 2020, more than 90% of the total export, or about 41,200 tonnes, was sold to China.

On February 26, the Chinese customs agency said it decided to suspend Taiwan’s pineapple imports starting in March after finding pests in recent shipments.

Agriculture minister Chen denied the allegation, saying that all of the country’s agricultural exports meet international standards. He also questioned China for making the move during the peak season for pineapples.

The pineapple season starts in February in Taiwan’s southernmost Pingtung county. In other southern counties, farmers harvest the crops from March to June.

“China ambushed Taiwan with unilateral notice that it will halt pineapple imports from Taiwan. This obviously was not a normal trade decision,” President Tsai wrote in a Facebook post on the day of the ban.

“Taiwan’s pineapples are nutritious, juicy, and delicious. Let’s eat pineapples together to support the farmers!”

In the post, Tsai said the government plans to spend NT$1 billion (US$36 million) on measures that aim to offset the impact of the ban on farmers, including expanding export markets, including the United States, Japan, and Singapore.

Pan Men-an, Pingtung County magistrate, said farmers in the county have been promoting the export of the fruit to markets other than China, including Japan, Korea, and Australia.

Pingtung is responsible for more than 30% of the country's pineapple production. Most farmers grow the high-quality Golden Diamond species for export markets.

Pan said the county has been rapidly increasing its total exports to Japan since 2018, and the trend is likely to continue. One of the first batches of Pingtung’s pineapples this year was sold to Seiyu, a Japanese group of supermarkets owned by Walmart, in mid February.

President Tsai has been active in promoting the export of local agricultural products since her inauguration, Su said Monday. Last year, Taiwan exported the first batch of fresh guavas to U.S. supermarkets, after the Department of Agriculture authorized the importation in the previous year.

China has a record of using unfair trade practices to achieve its policy goals. Last November, it slapped up to 200% tariffs on Australian wine after claiming to have found preliminary evidence of dumping, a move seen as a retaliation for Australia’s call for an international investigation into the source of Covid-19. The Australian government accused China of being unable to provide proof.

The “Freedom Wine” movement, a global campaign to stand by Australia, followed. In a video, politicians around the world called on consumers to buy a bottle of Australian wine as a gesture of support for the country’s fight against China’s punitive sanctions.

Last Friday, Taiwan’s Ministry Foreign Affairs also called for a “Freedom Pineapple” campaign on Twitter to urge people around the world to stand with Taiwan.

Many politicians of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, including Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative to the U.S., have posted a picture on social media of themselves having a bite of local pineapples or visiting a pineapple farm.

The calls of Taiwan’s leaders to support the country’s pineapple industry appear to be grounded in popular sentiment. Some Taiwanese have taken up a pineapple binge eating challenge.

It’s proven more difficult, however, for those abroad to support the campaign directly, as exports have yet to significantly expand beyond the recently closed Chinese market.

This article has been amended to add context to Premier Su’s statement.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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