In the past few months, Taiwan has become New Zealand’s sixth biggest export market, beating out the United Kingdom. New Zealand’s dairy, meat and fruit are among the top products sent to Taiwan, a market now worth $1.6 billion dollars for exporters.
Taiwan, which is smaller than Canterbury, grows a lot of its own fruit and is known as the “Fruit Kingdom”. But it doesn’t grow everything, and New Zealand’s apples, cherries and kiwifruit are popular there. The sales of Zespri kiwifruit went up 20% during the pandemic, said Joanne Chen, the company’s marketing manager in Taipei.
The Taiwanese eat about 130 kilograms of fruit per year, per capita, making the island one of the world’s second biggest consumers of fruit after Spain.
But New Zealand exporters have a lot of local produce to compete with.
“We have 85% coming from local fruits, local fruits are cheaper and also very tasty, this is our biggest challenge,” said Ms Chen.
Taiwan, which is self-governed, is claimed by China and is diplomatically isolated. New Zealand is unique in that while it isn’t a formal ally it does have a free trade agreement with Taiwan. The only other country like this is Singapore.
A fruit seller at Binjiang Market in Taipei said the free trade deal had benefited him.
“Without tax the selling price could be lower, so we can sell the kiwifruits faster,” said Mr Lu.
When New Zealand signed the free trade agreement in 2013, it came at a time when China was willing to give Taiwan more room and autonomy. Those close to the deal says there’s no way it would have got off the ground today. Relations between Taiwan and China have been worsening since 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected President, who Beijing sees as supporting Taiwan independence.
The free trade deal is being credited for helping Taiwan become an important market for New Zealand, and the chair of the Taiwan business council, Charles Finny thinks it has the potential to grow even further.
“It's the same population and same economic size as Australia. Look how big the Australian market is for us, why can't we do even better in the Taiwan market,” said Mr Finny.
Trading in the opposite direction are electronics. Taiwan is the world’s biggest producer of advanced microchips, helping to power the world’s devices.
The Taiwanese government has applied to join a large transpacific trade pact, the CPTTP, which New Zealand is also part of.
The Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said he hoped New Zealand would support Taiwan joining the agreement and said it would help strengthen supply chains.
“Taiwan occupies an important position in international supply chain, especially in the semi-conductor supply chain and if Taiwan is able to have better trade relations with New Zealand, I'm sure it's going to benefit New Zealand,” said Mr Wu.
Two-way trade between Taiwan and New Zealand is worth $3 billion dollars, with the potential for it to grow further.
Cushla Norman’s trip to Taiwan has been funded by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.