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Paraguay’s national flag is hoisted outside the country’s presidential palace in Asuncion. Photo: AFP

Taiwan agrees to allow duty-free imports of Paraguayan pork in setback for mainland China

  • ‘Moment to celebrate’ hailed as boon for South American country’s producers who have faced weaker demand after sanctions on Russia over Ukraine war
  • Paraguayan president was under pressure to cut country’s decades-old ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing and its larger economic market
Taiwan has agreed to allow duty-free imports of Paraguayan pork in a landmark move that could strengthen ties between two allies whose relations have long vexed mainland China.

“This is a moment to celebrate,” said Jose Chih-Cheng Han, Taiwan’s top envoy to Asuncion on Thursday, noting Paraguayan President Santiago Pena visited the island last year seeking such an outcome.

Han hailed the deal as a boon for Paraguayan producers who have faced weaker demand following US and European Union sanctions levied against Russia after it invaded Ukraine. Moscow previously was the primary market for Paraguayan meat.

The agreement also permits duty-free exports of wheat flour, textiles, ethyl alcohol and beef burgers as well as reduced tariffs for honey and rice biscuits.

Paraguayan President Santiago Pena, who took office in 2023, advocates close ties with Taiwan. Photo: EPA-EFE

Javier Gimenez, Paraguay’s minister of industry and commerce, said negotiations were nearing completion to eliminate tariffs on poultry exports.

Pena lauded the deal as a move enhancing Paraguay’s global economic standing.

“From the beginning of our administration we set ourselves the objective of positioning ourselves in the international market,” he said following the announcement.

“We went to Taiwan, where we have already made progress in opening the market for beef,” Pena added. “Today we are happy to announce that we have received this great news for the pork industry.”

The development represents a significant gesture by Taiwan towards Paraguay, the only country in South America that has full diplomatic relations with the self-governed island. The two established relations in 1957.

Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of China and to be reunited by force if necessary, has seen the number of states around the world with which it has full diplomatic relations dwindle in recent years.

Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but Washington is opposed to any attempt to take the island by force and is committed to supplying it with weapons.

Sources interviewed by the Post in August said Pena had faced pressure from farmers in Paraguay to cut ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing, which offers a robust market for South American commodities.

In September, after Paraguayan Finance Minister Carlos Fernandez declared in an interview that his country was open to “any Chinese entrepreneur who was willing to invest and create jobs” there, Beijing refused to expand trade with Asuncion.

China at the time said Paraguay should not expect greater cooperation while it maintained diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

The Global Times, a Beijing-backed tabloid, asserted in an editorial in September that Asuncion practised a strategy of “having its feet in two separate boats, which is doomed to fail”.

Taiwan had already been increasing its imports from Paraguay, as tensions over the country’s diplomatic recognition of the self-ruled island escalated.

Its pork purchases soared by 541 per cent compared with 2022 to nearly 7.7 tonnes, worth US$19 million last year. Paraguayan authorities said they sought this year to boost this figure to US$100 million.

From January to March this year, Paraguay already exported 1.19 tonnes of pork to Taiwan, according to the country’s National Service of Quality and Animal Health.

In a video shared on Thursday on X (formerly Twitter), Pena touted the deal as creating “more added value” for national producers and “more jobs for our compatriots”.

The opposition, however, greeted the news with scepticism. Milciades Benitez of the Beloved Fatherland party on Friday said on X that “this stubbornness to continue distancing ourselves from the Chinese market is unsustainable”.

“Taiwan, buying Paraguayan politicians for coins, is causing us enormous damage,” he added.