Patrick B. McGuigan
TAIPEI, TAIWAN -- Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan, president of the island Republic, is embroiled in challenges as he begins his second term of office on Sunday (May 20). In the midst of his domestic policy troubles, however, he might find comfort from his country’s increasingly productive mutual trade relationship with Oklahoma.
A long-cordial and productive link between the Sooner State and the government of “Formosa” (the beautiful island, as Portuguese explorers called it hundreds of years ago) has strengthened in recent years, manifested anew in a 2011 accord for Taiwan’s Flour Millers Association to purchase 1.7 million metric tons (roughly 62.5 million bushels) of U.S. wheat in the course of 2011-2012.
The pact was inked last year by Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese and I-Tsung Chen, director of the millers’ group.
According to an Oklahoma Wheat Commission report, it turns out that hard red winter wheat is high in proteins and strong gluten flour of the sort needed to make “traditional Chinese flour foods and noodles. Soft white imports, including western white, help meet growing demand for cake, cookie and pastry flours.”
Here in Taipei, the capital city, a brief walk along any street with shops and restaurants demonstrates anew that noodles are a staple of the daily diet on the island, which has driven Taiwan’s annual imports of an average of 33 million bushels (910,000 metric tons) of U.S. wheat from 2006-2011.
Saturday evening (May 19) members of the international press corps in Taipei shared a variety of noodle dishes during a reception hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A few blocks away, colleagues in the news business reported the story as thousands of President Ma’s critics demonstrated against his government’s fiscal policies.
Early this year, after winning an historic second term as leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party, Ma seemed on the verge of taking the country into even more robust market-orientation as one of the world’s leading economic engines.
Now, however, he is under intense criticism from members of the opposition Democratic Progressives, and the smaller People First and Taiwan United parties. Taking a page from Wisconsin in the U.S., there is even talk of creating a recall process as a political weapon against the president.
Wheat is one of the wide variety of commodities exported from Oklahoma to Taiwan, still officially designated as the Republic of China (ROC).
According to data from Global Trade Information Services (GTIS, February 2012) -- information condensed by staff at the Oklahoma Commerce Department in response to a request from CapitolBeatOK -- such products amount to nearly 60 percent (57.94) of our state’s exports to Taiwan. The value of commodity sales to Taiwan from Oklahoma rose impressively in three years, from $15,297,949 U.S. dollars in 2009 to $36,808,673 in 2011.
Similarly, the value of Oklahoma machinery sales to Taiwan leapt from $3,038,194 in 2009 to $8,916,498 last year. Other areas of state exports included electrical machinery, optical materials and cotton products.
On the flip side, Oklahoma is a strong market for goods from Taiwan. Total imports here went from $11,963,918 in 2009 to $181,603,625. The incoming material includes machinery, electrical machinery (including key elements of the information revolution), vehicles, woven fabrics iron and steel.
Roiling the U.S.-Taiwan trade picture has been controversy surrounding the use of ractopamine in American beef. The additive helps make beef leaner, but in Taiwan populist drives against American beef imports intensified in wake of reports of a “mad cow” incident in one U.S. feedlot.
In 2010, then-Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma celebrated 30 years of close ties with Taiwan at a state Capitol ceremony. Governor Jung-Tzer Lin of Taiwan joined our chief executive to sign official documents renewing longstanding economic, cultural and business ties between the two states. Henry, who visited Taiwan while governor, said ties between Oklahoma and Taiwan are “strong and unbreakable.”
Taiwan ranks high among destination nations for Oklahoma exports. Oklahoma celebrated its centennial in 1907, and shares a certain kinship with the beautiful island and its friendly people.
The news media here is regularly listed by Freedom House as the freest press in Asia, and among the freest in the world. The liberty of reporters here compares favorably with any nation in the world, and is reflected in the fearless coverage of regional issues, including events in mainland China.
Despite its economic power, China continues to lag in political and cultural freedoms under a communist government that combines market economics with continued repression of domestic opposition.
Increasing trade and other pragmatic ties between China and Taiwan have not removed the ultimate source of tension in Taiwan politics – that is, the future of the relationship across the Straits.
Even with the beef additive controversy – and the larger, deeply worrisome impact of European financial instability (primarily in Greece) on world markets, including in Asia -- prospects for continued enrichment of both Taiwan and Oklahoma are bright as the ROC celebrates its 100th anniversary as the oldest and most functioning democratic Republic in a predominantly Chinese nation.
NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan is attending the second-term inauguration of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.