Taiwan President Pledges Efforts to Resolve U.S. Beef Trade Matters; Seeks to Reassure Consumers

June 6, 2012 07:09 AM

Taiwan leader trying to push for broader beef trade with U.S. while answering domestic critics.

While pledging the Taiwan government will do all it can to resolve the beef trade issues with the U.S. over the compound ractopamine, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou is also seeking to reassure consumers that food safety will be the key factor on the issue.

In remarks after meeting with a U.S. delegation from the American Enterprise Institute (EIA), Ma said restarting the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with the U.S. were key for Taiwan. "TIFA is the foundation that will allow Taiwan to realize its goal of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership within eight years," Ma said. "Over the past five years, I have been wanting for Taiwan and the U.S. to resume trade talks under the TIFA framework of 1994, but was faced with the obstacle of U.S. beef imports."

Ma also noted that officials from the U.S. and Taiwan had struck an informal agreement during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Russia that the two sides would restart TIFA talks once the beef trade dispute is resolved.

However, his message to those in Taiwan takes on a slightly different tone. In response to criticism from the Homemakers United Foundation that the government is not safeguarding public health but giving into commercial interests, Ma insisted that public health would be paramount in the beef trade issue.

"I will not risk the health of the Taiwanese people for the sake of the economy," Ma told an environmental summit meeting, according to press reports. But he also noted that the country could face economic difficulties if the trade talks with the U.S. remain stalled.

In addition, Ma insisted that Taiwan has not made any promises to the U.S. on the issue and said the real pressure for Taiwan is to integrate into the world economy.

Besides TIFA, Taiwan would like to become a participant in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, Ma noted. "We have made so much effort to try to join the TPP within the next eight years," he observed. "That effort should not be in vain."

But that, too, could be linked to the beef trade issue as the outgoing head of the American Institute in Taiwan recently told Taiwanese lawmakers that TIFA, TPP and Taiwan's participation in a U.S. visa program are essentially linked to a positive resolution to the beef trade issue. A spokesman for the AIT would not confirm what Taiwanese lawmakers referred to as "three promises."

Taiwan's parliament is expected this month to take up a government proposal to set tolerance levels for the presence of ractopamine in imported beef, but there has been vocal opposition to shifting away from Taiwan's zero-tolerance policy for the compound. It is not permitted to be used in production in Taiwan but is cleared for use in the U.S. and other countries.

PERSPECTIVE: It will be interesting to see how this drama plays out as the Taiwan administration has insisted to the U.S. that it will do all it can to address the beef trade issue given the economic matters at stake. But, they are also seeking to assure those within the country that public health and food safety will not be put at risk. That's a delicate balancing act for the Taiwanese government to find and one so far that has been elusive and keeps some key trade matters simmering as the situation plays out.

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