(Bloomberg) — China’s surprise ban on pineapple imports from Taiwan five months ago wasas an attempt to undermine President Tsai Ing-wen’s standing with a political constituency. has produced anything but the desired effect. First-half numbers collected by Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture show growers of the fruit on the island have fared better since imports starting March 1, as sympathetic Japanese shoppers stepped in to provide support. A domestic campaign to drum up demand also helped. Shipments to more than eightfold to 16,556 tons in the four months through June from a year ago.
The helping hand from Japanese importers has come as a pleasant surprise for Taiwan’s rattled farmers. They were bracing for a plunge in , which termed it a usual precaution to protect biosecurity. The spiky fruit is wine to coal and lobster China has targeted for sanctions to help gain leverage in trade disputes. “The bleeding was stopped before it even began,” said Chen Li, an official at the Council of Agriculture in Taipei.
Japan has replaced China as the significant overseas destination for Taiwan’s pineapples. While it’s unclear how long the ban will last — the shift may well reverse once the — the humble tropical fruit has become an unlikely symbol of defiance in the region’s geopolitical intrigues. Amid all the saber-rattling by Beijing, Japan and the island democracy have expressed a broad desire to forge closer ties. Leaders in Tokyo see their security as to Taiwan, which China asserts is its territory.
Pineapples are an essential source of income for. Until the ban, they were almost entirely shipped to China. Around 11% of the tropical fruit harvested in Taiwan is sold overseas. “Export orders are looking unexpectedly good,” said Chiao Chun, chief of Harvest Consultancy Co. in Taipei. “This was a crisis turned into an opportunity.” Besides the help from Japan, an increase in domestic demand fueled by a “save the farmers” campaign on rallied local shoppers in support of growers. Even after China’s ban took effect.
Farmers also received passionate backing from. Restaurants across the island rushed in to add a pineapple-infused sweet twist to all sorts of dishes, ranging from shrimp balls, fried rice, and even the classic beef noodle soup. Taiwan Railways Administration introduced lunch boxes with pineapples as one of the side dishes. As a result, fruit prices jumped 28% to an average of NT$22.1 (80 cents) per kilogram in the March-June period, a three-year high. The total value of the pineapples sold locally rose 17%, according to by the farm council’s Chen.
“Higher prices driven by strong domestic demand led to more profit for the farmers,” Chen said. One key question is whether the uptick in overseas demand is sustainable. Exporters cite concerns over Japan’s stringent quality requirements and for smaller, less sweet varieties than the pineapples typically grown in Taiwan. But the Chinese Taiwan with little choice but to review its export markets for the fruit, according to Young Fu-fan, a grower in the southern county of Tainan. “Farmers can’t expect to make ‘easy money’ from .