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Taiwan: Asia's unsung flower power

In the last decade, Taiwan has quietly become the world's No. 1 exporter of orchids.

Dutch flower exporters use a similar model, with plantations in Africa or other cheaper locations. But at the moment, cross-strait trade barriers make that business model impossible. Some flower imports from China are banned; others face a 35 percent import tariff, said Parker Wu, a veteran of the orchid business at Orchis Floriculturing.

Wu thinks the Taiwan government should set up an export zone and an auction, similar to the one in Yunnan province or in Holland, to better connect Taiwan's producers with global buyers.

Another focus will be on developing brands. Up until now, many of the island's flower firms have been akin to "contract" manufacturers in that they export small plants or cuttings to the U.S., where U.S. brands shepherd them through the final stages of production, market and sell them. That means Taiwan firms earn only a small slice of the profits.

Branding would expand Taiwan's slice. "In the end, your brand is the most important thing," said Richard Lin, of the Taiwan Orchid Growers Association. "There's still a lot we have to learn and improve."