President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday called for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers to fully support a draft bill that would ease import restrictions on beef containing residues of the feed additive ractopamine. He warned of grave consequences for Taiwan’s economic and trade liberalization if the bill failed to clear the legislature on Tuesday.
Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, reiterated at a caucus meeting that US beef containing the controversial lean meat enhancer was safe in an attempt to ensure cooperation from all KMT legislators during Tuesday’s vote on an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法). He said lifting the ban was a prerequisite for the resumption of negotiations with the US on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
“There will be grave consequences if the amendment fails to pass the legislature next week. Our efforts in economic and trade liberalization will be compromised. The US will doubt our determination in bilateral trade cooperation and it would be unbearable for us,” he said at the meeting held at the KMT’s headquarters last night.
Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) and other top Cabinet officials also attended the meeting in a show of party unity amid concerns about opposition to the amendment from within the party. Fourteen KMT legislators have expressed support for a zero-tolerance policy on US beef imports containing the livestock feed additive.
Linking the US beef import issue to the nation’s economic future, Ma said resuming bilateral negotiations under the TIFA would help facilitate the signing of free-trade agreements or economic pacts with major trade partners.
“We are facing a critical moment in history, and whether the amendment can pass the legislature will affect the nation’s future. It’s not only about the import of US beef products,” he said.
He dismissed the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) proposed “EU model,” under which imports of US beef from designated US farms without ractopamine residue would be allowed, saying it was “unrealistic” because Taiwan cannot afford to fight a long legal battle with the US over imports of US beef without ractopamine residues.
“This is not a vote for Ma Ying-jeou or the KMT, it’s a vote to support Taiwan’s future,” he said, while denying the US has been pressuring Taiwan over the issue.
Fifty-nine of the 64 KMT lawmakers attended last night’s meeting.
KMT whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said after the meeting that the caucus had approved a proposal that KMT lawmakers should toe the party line on major policies and bills. Legislators who attended the meeting agreed that any legislator who was absent from the vote, or voted against the amendment on Tuesday, would face a fine and disciplinary action, he said.
That agreement will be put to the test, because some KMT legislators continued to voice concerns about the amendment — Alex Tsai (蔡正元) said he would not vote for the Cabinet’s version, while Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) remained undecided.
Lin said the party would continue to communicate with lawmakers who still have concerns about the draft. The Cabinet will also explain the amendment to the public before the legislative vote.