President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday urged the legislature to be cautious in blocking imports of US beef, saying any legal revisions should not violate the protocol that Taiwan has signed with the US.
“Unless we have a very convincing reason, it is very hard to turn down [the US’] request for ‘free trade’ because we are both WTO members,” Ma said. “The most important thing is to always put public health and safety first during negotiations.”
Ma made the remarks in a meeting with Cabinet officials and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus at the Presidential Office.
Under the terms of the protocol signed by the US and Taiwan, US bone-in beef, ground beef, bovine intestines, brains, spinal cords and processed beef from cattle younger than 30 months that have not been contaminated with “specific risk materials” will be allowed into Taiwan starting on Tuesday.
In response to criticism that the market opening could endanger public health, the government said last week it would use administrative means to block the import of ground beef and bovine intestines.
As the legislature is planning to complete the amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) around Tuesday, Ma yesterday said the government could adopt administrative measures and strengthen inspections to block the import of controversial US beef products, but the legislation could not stipulate a ban because it would violate the protocol.
“But if consumers don’t eat or buy and importers don’t bring in the products, we will not be violating the protocol,” he said. “When they see there is no profit in selling the products, there won’t be any in the market.”
“Besides, there are many limitations and inspection procedures that the products have to go through before they come in. They may well quit after learning of the difficulties,” he said.
This way, Ma said, when his administration talks to the US, it could say the government has relaxed the restrictions but it is not responsible for promoting the products and that the public is free to choose what it wants to eat.
Ma said this would ensure public safety, secure relations with the US and protect the nation’s credibility.
The president dismissed speculation that there was any trade-off in the government’s decision to relax restrictions on US beef, adding that the negotiations were made to improve overall ties with the US.
While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has asked the government to clearly state it would “ban” US beef and launch new negotiations with Washington, Ma said to do so would violate not only the protocol but also the regulations of the WTO and the World Organization for Animal Health.
He asked the DPP and the public to think twice whether the country was willing to pay the price for reneging on the deal, adding that he was not sure Taipei would get a better deal if new negotiations were held.
“We are not afraid of the Americans,” he said. “But as a member of the international community, we must play by the rules if we want to participate in international activities and that is an important global perspective.”
On other issues, Ma yesterday backed Premier Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) call on Tuesday for the executive branch to brief the legislature about signing cross-strait memorandum of understandings (MOU) on financial supervision over the banking, insurance and securities industries.