Taiwan's cabinet officials announced this week that they plan to lift the ban on most U.S. beef products from animals that have received ractopamine. U.S. pork was not included in the decision. Internal organs from cattle receiving ractopamine also will be kept out of the country, cabinet officials note.
Action to lift the U.S. beef ban is not wrapped up as it continues to face public opposition and it awaits parliament's approval. The decision hinges on four principles: determination of a safe level of ractopamine in beef (proposed at 10 parts per billion), separating the beef import permits from pork, clearly labeling the imported beef products, and excluding imports of beef internal organs.
Some in Taiwan are speculating that the decision on beef is an attempt to facilitate trade talks with Washington. However, not everyone in Taiwan is happy with the recent announcement; it triggered public protests. On Tuesday, scores of protesters, mostly students, rallied outside the presidential office in downtown Taipei. Some threw raw beef at a President Ma Ying-jeou. More than 16 civic groups protested on Wednesday, demanding that Premier Sean Chen resign.
The protestors want the government to change course on this decision. Taiwan’s pig farmers also have been vocal in their opposition to lifting the ban. They are planning a public protest on Thursday. In fact, more than 100 civic groups are planning to hold protests on the issue throughout Taiwan over the next week.
The cabinet's move follows a canceled U.S. trade visit to the country. Washington has been urging Taipei to ease restrictions on U.S. beef, and news agencies report some local Taiwanese officials believe the stalled free-trade talks between the two countries hinge on the beef issue.
"Since the US has repeatedly stressed that the beef issue is linked to trade talks, it will affect Taiwan/U.S. ties if the issue remains unsolved," said Lin Sheng-chung, Taiwan’s vice economics minister, the United Daily News reports.
“Taiwan must treat U.S. agricultural products fairly, in accordance with scientific evidence, and in keeping with its trade obligations, if it expects to maintain its status as a strong economic partner with the United States,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “There is no scientific reason for Taiwan to set residual levels of a certain additive for beef but not for pork. I hope Taiwan’s announcement was just a first step in the right direction toward more removal of the trade barriers hurting U.S. farmers.”
The main opposition to the beef import measure is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). It has threatened to boycott the plan in the parliament and even to "dismiss" the cabinet by proposing a no-confidence vote.
"Countries that banned ractopamine were "unable to document any legitimate food safety risk and used non-scientific reasons to justify their bans," the American Institute in Taiwan, which is the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei in the absence of formal relations, said in a released statement.