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Taiwan has given green light to panda imports
Central News Agency
2008-11-18 12:28 PM
Taiwan has issued an import permit for a pair of giant pandas offered by China as a token of good will and friendship to Taiwan's people and is now waiting for China to give the green light for the delivery, government sources said Monday.

According to the sources, the Bureau of Foreign Trade (MOFT) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs issued an import permit for the two pandas in mid-September in accordance with the country's trade law and a letter of consent from the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture (COA).

As pandas are a Grade-One endangered wildlife species subject to the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the sources said, the BOFT has issued the import permit in line with the convention's spirit and regulations.

China first offered to send a pair of giant pandas to Taiwan as a gift of friendship in May 2005 when then-opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan made an ice-breaking visit to Beijing.

But the two sides did not sign a formal agreement on the exchanges of indigenous rare fauna and flora species to symbolize their amity and determination to cooperate in wildlife conservation until Nov. 6.

As the Taipei City Zoo has long applied to host the giant pandas, the BOFT's import permit was issued before the formal signing of an agreement on cross-strait wildlife exchanges, the sources said.

With the BOFT's import permit, an official with the COA's Forestry Bureau said, the Taipei Zoo can then file an application with Chinese authorities to issue an export permit.

Once the export permit has been issued, the city zoo will be required to apply with the Forestry Bureau for a letter of consent and the bureau will in turn ask the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine to determine quarantine standards for the pandas.

The city zoo would then notify China that it has received the COA's letter of consent and quarantine standards and ask Beijing to prepare the necessary quarantine certificates to facilitate the

pandas' entry into Taiwan. Once they arrive, the pandas will still be quarantined at the zoo for a certain period of time before they can appear in public.

City zoo officials said Monday that Taiwan's quasi-official intermediary body -- the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) -- has been commissioned to consult with its Chinese counterpart -- the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) -- on technical details regarding delivery of the precious animals.

The thorniest issue is how to identify the "country of import" and "country of origin" that are part of the information CITES requires on any export permit covering trade or cross-border movement in Grade-One endandered species.

According to Taipei city government officials, SEF and ARATS officials have proposed three possible options -- "the Republic of China vs. the People's Republic of China, " "Taiwan/Taipei vs. Sichuan/Chengdu," or "Taipei City Zoo vs. Wolong Panda Sanctuary."

Responding to a press inquiry on the issue, SEF Vice Chairman and Secretary-General Kao Koong-lian said the "Taipei City Zoo vs. Wolong Panda Sanctuary" option is the most likely choice to be used on all relevant documents to identity the importer and exporter and sidestep country names.

According to the gift exchange agreement signed in Taipei Nov. 6 by SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and ARATS President Chen Yunlin, China will also present Taiwan with 17 seedlings of a peace-symbolizing dovetree. In return, Taiwan will present China with a pair of Formosan sika deer and a pair of Formosan serow.

Meanwhile, Taipei zoo officials said over the weekend that preparations for the panda arrival are entering the final stage as the construction of a panda house at the zoo and other facilities are nearly completed.

Zoo Director Jason Yeh told reporters that following experts' suggestions, the zoo has made enhancements to the interior of the panda hall and the project to prepare facilities for hosting the pandas is almost finished.

He added that animal caretakers recently conducted a dry run to make sure there will be no hitchs when they raise and take care of the two pandas in the hall.

Ensuring the welfare of the animals will be the top priority when the animals are being transported from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to the zoo after they arrive in Taiwan probably next month, Yeh said.

He added that the zoo plans to seek police assistance to try to shorten the land transport time from the airport to the zoo to approximately 40 minutes. Police may be assisted in ensuring smooth traffic flow to avoid having the pandas stuck in traffic or making the journey uncomfortable for them.

Meanwhile, zoo spokesman Chin Shih-chien explained that as the transport of the pair of pandas, currently at a panda breeding base in Ya'an, western Sichuan Province, to Taiwan will take more than four hours, the zoo decided to streamline the delivery procedures after their arrival in Taiwan to avoid the animals being tired or hungry during the long trip.

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