Clearing the Pesticide Backlog

When AmCham Taipei committees met with government regulators on February 26 in the third quarterly meeting convened by the National Development Council (NDC) to discuss unresolved issues from the Chamber’s Taiwan White Paper, one additional item was included in the agenda. Although the issue arose following publication of the 2017 White Paper, it was considered important enough to deserve priority attention.

The topic, raised by AmCham’s Agro-chemical Committee, concerns the huge backlog at the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) for setting Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) to qualify new pesticides to be used in this market. The approval process has slowed to a crawl since mid-2016, with some 1,000 applications currently still pending (while new ones continue to be submitted), depriving farmers of access to the latest, most efficient products.

The reason for the slowdown is thought to be the TFDA’s extra caution about food safety after prompting from the Legislative Yuan’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee. The legislators called for an unprecedentedly strict standard for the risk evaluation of pesticides, and asked that Taiwan establish an MRL for a given crop or pesticide only after at least one other country has done so.

In response to the lawmakers’ proposals, AmCham member companies note that a Taiwan-unique standard that exceeds the requirements of all major markets in the world, impairing the access to Taiwan of imported products, could lead to complaints against Taiwan in the World Trade Organization of erecting unfair market barriers. In addition, requiring reference to MRLs established in other countries poses difficulties because many of the crops grown in Taiwan are not common in other markets.

Adding to the seriousness of the backlog issue is that it comes at a time when the government – as outlined by Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Lin Tsung-hsien – aims to reduce the volume of pesticides used in Taiwan by half within a decade in the interest of environmental protection. The best way of accomplishing that goal is to promote the use of new, higher-efficacy agro-chemicals that require lower dosages. When new products are not approved due to MRL issues, farmers do not have that option.

The meeting hosted by NDC provided opportunity for discussion on how the TFDA and COA can better coordinate to speed up the approval process. “It was a positive exchange of views,” says AmCham Taipei President William Foreman. “Now the test will be whether the government can clear the backlog to allow improved pesticides into the market without undue delay. What’s needed is to come up with clear and transparent procedures for setting MRLs in timely fashion and in accordance with scientific principles and standard international practices.”