Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, Taiwan preceded Korea into the ranks of industrial countries. As it emerged as the world’s fifth largest trading nation, however, its strategic status as a front-line state in the Cold War was undermined by the collapse of Communism and China’s rapprochement with the West. While its consumers became some of the richest and most sophisticated in the world, its government desperately sought to achieve diplomatic acceptance and to retain the protection of US support. Taiwan’s farmers, who had contributed so much to the rise of industry, were thus forced to adjust in a short space of time to their changed position in the economy, within a political context which, although undergoing the same process of liberalisation as occurred elsewhere, was heavily conditioned by the nation’s precarious international status.
The sections which follow will describe the emergence of Taiwan’s agricultural adjustment ‘crisis’ and outline the often contradictory policies pursued in the face of the problem, together with their overall impact. They will reveal a policy response in many ways paralleling that in Korea and Japan, and a set of institutional mechanisms for state intervention in the agricultural sector which has much in common with those employed elsewhere in East Asia. Moreover, in Taiwan as in Japan and Korea, the combination of the policy tools adopted and the responses of farm households to the opportunities created by East Asian forms of industrialisation failed to produce a structural model for a viable agriculture in a post-Uruguay Round world.
At the same time, however, Taiwan stands out, in the East Asian context, for a level of agricultural protection which, although still relatively high by international standards, is comparatively low when compared to Japan and Korea. The causes of this are to be sought, on the one hand, in the commercialised and diversified economy of rural Taiwan, which limited the effectiveness of ‘East Asian’, rice-centred forms of agricultural support, and, on the other, in Taiwan’s particular political circumstances. As a