When one imports a package from abroad using a service like DHL, FedEx, UPS, etc., that package first goes to an agent that needs to determine what is in the package so that they can advise customs on the amount of duty and what duty codes apply. Taiwan has different duty codes, some which seem to be duplicates with different tax rates.
I wanted to import Vitamin C amongst other things. Even with 30% duty, it is cheaper than buying it locally. According to the WTO regulations, there should not be any duty, and there are entries in the customs database that say the duty would be 0 on Vitamin C. However, that requires having an import licence. In this case, the import licence would come from the Department of Health.
When I asked DHL about the duty in detail, they were able to explain why certain codes could be used and others could not (the online database has somewhat sparse explanations). For example, there is an entry for magnesium that has no duty, is not subject to the import license, but also is not usable. It is meant for construction materials. UPS was not nearly so forthcoming about the duty codes, so it was nice to learn something as long as I have to pay so much duty for it.
While the WTO promised free trade, it really seems to be free trade only for big companies in each industry. Big pharma basically owns the vitamin trade within Taiwan. To get an import licence, one needs to provide proof the vitamins are safe, effective, etc. There does not appear to be any requirement or desire for the government to try and seek out proof that the documentation is wrong, since all the B12 I have seen in Taiwan is the cyanocobalamin poison. The documentation requirements are severe for somebody just wanting to import a few bottles of a certain nutritional supplement, so the choice is between buying something of low quality and quantity locally or getting hit with a 30% duty on import.
Big pharma truly does determine who lives and who dies, as long as they don’t bother to look at international sources of supplements they might need that are cheaper and better. It isn’t just the high value patent drugs in the news every so often either.