- Activists protest against Taiwan government’s plan to allow beef imports from the United States in front of the cabinet building (Executive Yuan) in Taipei March 7, 2012. Reuters
Wall Street Journal China | March 7, 2012
On the menu in Taiwan? US beef with a dash of ractopamine
Will Taiwan’s proposed serving of U.S. beef give it a seat at the table in the next round of trade talks?
Taiwanese officials on Wednesday said they would recommend a conditional lifting of restrictions against U.S. beef that contains a “safe level” of ractopamine, a meat-leanness enhancer used by U.S. cattle raisers, to the legislature. Lawmakers can still reject the proposal, as they did with a similar one two years ago.
Taiwan, along with China and the EU, has a zero-tolerance policy on the chemical agent, citing health concerns. But the U.S. insists the beef meets international standards and is safe for human consumption.
The beef impasse has been a sore spot in Taiwan-U.S. trade relations. Following the initial restrictions, Washington in 2007 suspended trade talks with the island under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, the forum under which the two are supposed to hammer out trade issues. Taiwanese media speculated this week that the last-minute trip cancellation by Francisco Sanchez, an Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, was a show of U.S. impatience.
Taiwan has made inroads in broadening trade and economic ties with China, but the island continues to seek wider access to the international market by striving to sign free-trade agreements or similar trade pacts with the U.S. and other regional partners, especially amid the emergence of South Korea, Taiwan’s biggest competitors. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who won a close re-election contest earlier this year, has pushed such agreements to give added oomph to the island’s economy.
Taiwan may have its eyes on a bigger prize. Taiwan is also seeking a U.S. endorsement of its bid for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Without TIFA, there would be no platform to discuss an FTA [free-trade agreement] with the U.S., which will also affect Taiwan’s hope to join TPP in the next 10 years,” economic minister Shih Yen-hsiang told local reporters.
It remains to be seen how the legislature will deliberate on the matter, but it appears the cabinet’s recent decision has only further fueled the local anti-U.S. beef sentiment.
The Democratic Progressive Party, the island’s biggest opposition party with 35% of the legislature’s seats, has already threatened to slow work over the matter.
The government said the partial ban will pertain only to beef, while all import pork must remain ractopamine-free. Still, the proposal also faces opposition from the local hog-farm industry.
“It feels like the government has slapped us in the face,” said Pan Liang-chou, the head of the hog raiser association, who plans to lead a protest on Thursday.
While Taiwan has no local cattle industry to speak of, the hog farming community is a vital and strong part of Taiwan’s agriculture business. Agriculture is roughly 1.7% of Taiwan’s total GDP in 2011, according to the government statistic department.
China, meanwhile, continues to keep ractopamine under strict watch.
– Jenny W. Hsu