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Taiwan is moving toward a possible removal of a ban on agricultural imports from five Japanese prefectures introduced due to the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“Now it’s all up to the decision of President Tsai Ing-wen,” a diplomatic source said. There is a view that the ban will be lifted in spring at the earliest.

Discussions on the issue were given momentum by a referendum Dec. 18 last year in which Taiwanese people voted down a plan to ban imports of U.S. pork containing a leanness-enhancing additive.

While the largest opposition Kuomintang asked for voter approval of the plan, saying that food safety should be put above diplomacy, Tsai called for it to be rejected by presenting scientific safety standards.

Since the referendum, local media outlets have been running articles on the issue, including ones saying that the referendum result is expected to give impetus to the lifting of the ban.

The ban on food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba was introduced in response to the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s disaster-hit nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.

In 2018, the Kuomintang launched a campaign against the lifting of the ban. In a referendum that year, Taiwan decided to keep the measure intact.

But in view of the rejection of the ban on U.S. pork, Kuo Kuo-wen, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the mood of society has changed and that there is no reason to delay the removal of the ban on imports from the Japanese prefectures any further.

Taiwanese people’s attention has already shifted to the schedule of the lifting. From spring, Taiwan will gear up for nationwide local elections so the ban may be lifted between January and March at the earliest, observers say.

Meanwhile, Tsai’s administration has not made clear when the ban may be lifted.

Tsai is trying to realize Taiwan’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) free trade deal ahead of China. She therefore puts priority on the resolution of food-related problems with Japan, which plays a leading role in the CPTPP framework.

A diplomatic source said Tsai is taking a cautious stance because there is a by-election for the Legislative Yuan this month and any mishandling of the issue would provide ammunition to the opposition side.

Meanwhile, some citizens remain worried about the safety of food from the Japanese prefectures. There are people who say that the lifting of the imports from the five prefectures would not guarantee Taiwan’s participation in the CPTPP.

The issue has effectively turned into “a domestic problem of Taiwan,” a Japanese diplomatic source said.

If Japan is seen as pressuring Taiwan, the lifting will be delayed further, the source said, pointing to the need to calmly wait and see how things will develop.

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