President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said his administration has no predetermined position or timetable regarding the importation of controversial US beef products, despite speculation of a possible policy change by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
“We have always maintained the same position as US officials — that Taiwanese have concerns about US beef imports and the use of ractopamine,” Ma said at a press conference for the handover of the premiership.
Ma said the US beef issue is not new as Taipei had been engaged in a dispute with Washington over the importation of offal two years ago and more recently the two have sparred over the use of ractopamine.
He said candid communication with the public has always been his priority when dealing with the US beef issue.
The president said he had asked the Council of Agriculture, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Department of Health to seek a public consensus and use scientific data to reach a final assessment regarding the presence of ractopamine in food products.
Premier Sean Chen (陳冲), who officially assumed the position yesterday, said an inter-agency task force — led by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) and comprised of representatives from the Environmental Protection Administration, the ministry and the Consumer Protection Committee — would be established to tackle the issue.
Earlier yesterday, the DPP said the Ma administration owes it to Taiwanese to provide a clear explanation of its position on the controversial issue.
“The DPP urges Ma to clearly explain his position and any possible policy changes regarding the importation of US beef,” DPP spokesperson Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said.
Lo said the Ma administration has failed to disclose its official position on the controversial topic, adding that government officials had sent conflicting messages about whether beef imports were linked with the resumption of bilateral trade talks with Washington under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
The ministry said it was not aware that the two issues were linked, while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Vice Chairman John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) said during his visit to Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast that beef imports were connected to the TIFA talks, Lo said.
Lo said the DPP’s position has been clear and remained the same as in 2009, adding that the party is not necessarily opposed to expanded US beef imports, but it demands an explanation about any policy change from the government.
“Taiwanese are entitled to know why the restriction would be relaxed and why the policy would be adjusted,” he said.
Lo said the DPP understands that the US beef issue would be influenced by politics and “give-and-take in bilateral negotiation,” and that the Ma administration could make concessions on the beef issue in exchange for the resumption of TIFA talks.
“However, we would also like to know what Taiwan would get for lifting the import ban. Will it only be the resumption of trade negotiations, or will it be a guarantee to complete the TIFA negotiations?” Lo said.
The DPP legislative caucus also expressed concerns about a possible policy change and the current administration’s ability to handle the issue at a press conference yesterday morning.
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳庭妃) said during Ma’s 2008 presidential bid that he campaigned on his opposition to the importation of US pork containing ractopamine, and Chen questioned why Ma would suddenly have no problem with the importation of US beef containing ractopamine.