President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said he would honor the legislature’s decision to amend a food safety law even though it would contravene a bilateral beef trade protocol signed by Taiwan and the US in October. The president, however, was evasive about who should be held responsible for the about-face.
“The top priority at the moment is to find out how the US government will react to the legislature’s decision and minimize the damage,” Ma said at a press conference at the Presidential Office yesterday afternoon after the legislature in the morning passed an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), banning imports of specific beef products from countries with documented cases of mad cow disease in the past decade.
The legislation will bar US ground beef, beef offal and other beef parts such as skulls, eyes and intestines from entering the Taiwanese market.
Lawmakers yesterday also passed three supplementary resolutions proposed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus. One obliges the government to abide by the results of a proposed referendum on beef imports, while the other states that lawmakers across party lines and the government should stand up to pressure from other countries resulting from the amendment. The other resolution stipulates that the government should strictly prohibit imports of products from cows over 30 months of age.
The KMT-dominated legislature, however, axed a resolution proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus suggesting a ban on the imports of bone-in beef until a referendum on the issue is held.
After the bill cleared the legislative floor yesterday, DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said the passage was not a victory for the DPP, but “a victory for all Taiwanese.”
DPP Legislator William Lai (賴清德) called on Ma to apologize for the government’s “mistake” in lifting a partial ban on US beef products last year.
“We will never allow an incompetent president to hide behind the legislature, which cleaned up the mess created [by the government],” Lai said. “[National Security Council Secretary-General] Su Chi (蘇起), who is the mastermind behind all this, should resign.”
KMT Legislator Daniel Hwang (黃義交), one of the legislators who proposed the bill, said the passage meant “legislators across party lines have an obligation to reflect public opinion” even though the government has the authority to negotiate trade regulations with other countries.
KMT caucus secretary-general Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) said the legislature had created an opportunity for the government to relaunch renegotiations with the US because the legislature had resolved the controversy in a democratic manner.
Lai called on the US to respect the decision.
“Taiwan is a democracy. Even though US beef imports are an important issue for the US, [Washington] should not force Taiwan to forsake its interests for those of the US,” he said. “We hope the two countries will be brothers forever.”
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) yesterday expressed regret over the decision, adding that the decision would hurt the Taiwan-US economic relationship.
“The US deeply regrets the Legislative Yuan’s decision to restrict US beef imports. The legislature’s decision to abrogate the bilateral protocol we negotiated in good faith disregards both science-based standards as well as findings of Taiwan’s own risk assessment,” AIT press officer Christopher Kavanagh told the Taipei Times by telephone, reading from a statement.