Taipei, -Despite complaints from travel agencies, Premier Su Tseng-chang (???) on Tuesday spoke out in support of a new policy that fines agencies if their clients try to bring meat products into the country, saying it is everyone's duty to prevent African swine fever (ASF) from reaching Taiwan.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Su said he expects travel agencies and their tour leaders to act as a "line of defense" against ASF contagion and step up efforts to inform international tourists of the government's ASF prevention measures.
"Disease prevention is like a battle. If everyone is indifferent, the ASF virus will definitely reach Taiwan and cause the collapse of the nation's hog industry valued at NT$200 billion (US$6.43 billion)," Su said in the post.
The premier's post came after an announcement by the Tourism Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications Monday night, introducing new fines that target travel agencies.
According to the Tourism Bureau, if a tourist is caught attempting to bring meat or meat products into Taiwan in contravention of a ban on such items, the travel agency involved could be fined up to NT$150,000.
Liu Shih-ming (???), a section chief at the bureau, said Tuesday the policy is already in place but that does not necessarily mean cases of attempted smuggling of meat products will automatically lead to travel agencies being punished.
A travel agency will only be fined when a violation is attributable to the agency failing to inform its clients of the ban or intentionally asking them to bring in meat products on its behalf, Liu said.
The bureau said that its decision to make travel agencies liable for offenses committed by its clients is based on Article 53 of the Act for the Development of Tourism.
The act stipulates that travel agencies and operators of tourism-related businesses can be fined NT$30,000-NT$150,000, determined on a case-by-case basis.
Situations in which fines can be imposed include tarnishing national dignity and damaging the national interest, while travel agency employees can also be fined NT$10,000-NT$50,000.
According to local media reports, Ko Mu-chou (???), vice president of Taiwan Tourism Development Association, said it is "ridiculous" to hold local travel agencies liable for meat products brought by their clients through customs because they only meet their clients after they arrive in the country.
Local travel agencies have already forwarded information on Taiwan's ASF prevention measures to their Chinese counterparts, Ko said.
He added that none of the cases of meat products being seized was from Chinese passengers on group tours, but all from individual tourists.
Lee Chi-yu (???), president of Ching Hsing travel agency, was quoted by local media as saying that travel agencies should not be fined because there is nothing they can do if clients choose to defy the ban against their advice.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel