US State Department regrets beef ban

DISAPPOINTED: The deputy US trade representative expressed serious concern over the Legislative Yuan’s decision to ‘place domestic politics over science’

By Jenny W. Hsu and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Thu, Jan 07, 2010 - Page 1

The US Department of State yesterday expressed disappointment over Taiwan’s partial ban on US beef products but said Washington would not retaliate by holding back arms sales to Taiwan.

“We’re very disappointed with the Taiwan legislature’s decision to ban certain cuts of US beef in violation of our bilateral agreement signed just over two months ago,” Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of the department’s Bureau of Public Affairs, said at a briefing in Washington.

“We remain committed, however, to further developing our broad-ranging and positive relationship with the people of Taiwan,” he said.

Crowley rejected speculation that the beef ban would affect the US’ intention to meet Taiwan’s security needs.

“US government policy and decisions in the security arena are based on the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA]. And as stipulated in the TRA, the US will continue to make available to Taiwan defense articles and services needed for Taiwan’s self-defense,” he said.

On Tuesday, the legislature passed an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) that targets beef products from countries with documented cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, over the past decade. The amendment effectively bars US ground beef, beef offal and other beef parts such as the skull, eyes and intestines from access, contravening a bilateral protocol signed by Taiwan and the US in October.

After the American Institute in Taiwan on Tuesday expressed regret over the ban, Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller also issued a statement to express disappointment and serious concern over the decision to “place domestic politics over science.”

Marantis and Miller said the amendment’s provisions “do not have a basis in science” and “constitute a unilateral violation” of the latest US-Taiwan protocol. They stressed that the protocol was negotiated on the basis of the guidelines laid out by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), as well as the findings of Taiwan’s own risk assessment, which concluded that all US beef and beef products were safe.

The US meat industry has objected to the ban, with National Cattlemen Beef Association (NCBA) chief economist Gregg Doud saying it was “outrageous” to suggest that US beef was risky and that “US beef producers are sick and tired of being used as political football” by Taiwanese politicians.

Doud said the concerns cited by politicians had no basis in scientific fact and “fly in the face of Taiwan’s own risk assessment.”

The NCBA urged the administration of US President Barack Obama to explore every option to rectify the situation.

American Meat Industry president J. Patrick Boyle said Taiwan had failed to live up to its obligations.

“US beef is among the safest anywhere and data show a record of sustained food safety progress,” he said. “There is simply no scientific basis for Taiwan’s action and at this point we must question the seriousness of their commitment to being a true trade partner.”

US Meat Export Federation president Philip Seng said the policy ignored scientific findings and the “controlled risk” status given by the OIE to both the US and Taiwan with regard to bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

GROWING MARKET

The federation added, however, that allowing imports of bone-in cuts would expand the US meat market in Taiwan. Taiwan is the US’ sixth-largest market for US beef exports by value. Exports totaled US$114.3 million last year — an increase of 6 percent over 2008.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday downplayed the impact of the amendment.

“What the US cares about is that we have signed the protocol but we passed an amendment that would contradict the protocol. It believes that we have breached our trade promise,” Wang said.

Wang said that ties between the two countries had only been slightly affected by the amendment and that the government would work to mend the relationship.

At a separate setting yesterday, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said the government would seek “immediate” consultations with Washington over the beef ban.

If that request is rejected, the two sides may have to wait until 180 days after the protocol’s ­implementation to review the deal.

The protocol states that the two sides shall consult within 180 days of the protocol’s implementation to review the deal and that consultations shall be held within seven working days of a request for review.

NO SHADOW?

After President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the accord was valid despite the legislature’s partial ban, Wu yesterday said the government would honor the accord by importing bone-in beef from cattle younger than 30 months, hopefully in one to two months.

Wu said he was confident that the ban would not have a negative impact on relations as the two countries have a profound friendship.

“But we do need to cement relations with the US in terms of economic ties. I also hope the [ban] will not cast a shadow over the country’s credibility in terms of global trade and economic [activities],” Wu said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) said the caucus would communicate with members of Congress through the Taiwan-US Parliamentary Amity Association.

“We will do our best,” Lu said, but added that it was normal for a legislature to amend the law to reflect public opinion.

RESPONSIBILITY

Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday demanded that a senior official step down to shoulder responsibility over the beef turnaround.

The DPP named three people: Ma, National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) and Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良).

“One of these three people must resign to answer to an angry public,” DPP spokeswoman Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said, ­adding that a poll conducted by cable network TVBS found that 33 percent of respondents blamed Ma, 22 percent blamed Yaung and 10 percent blamed Su.

The DPP has said that the Ma administration should shoulder responsibility for any fallout over the beef ban because it signed the protocol without public support.

Lu yesterday said Su should not have to step down over the controversy as he had only coordinated the talks with the US.

Asked for comment, Wang said he would respect Ma’s decision.

Lu said that since the legislature had completed the amendment, it could ask the Executive Yuan to “correct” any part of the protocol that violates the amendment.

CANADIAN TRADE

Meanwhile, the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei said it had no comment on the amendment’s passage, but was watching the situation.

Canada Beef Export Federation Taiwan Office director Stella Siao (蕭子欣) said Canada had requested to export bone-in beef from cattle under 30 months of age to Taiwan, but the request had been blocked.

In other developments, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a delegation from the ­Washington-based US-Taiwan Business Council led by chairman Paul Wolfowitz is expected to arrive at the end of the week.

The purpose of the routine visit is to promote closer business ties, the ministry said. The delegation will meet major policymakers, it said.

Wolfowitz, a former World Bank president and former US deputy defense secretary, will be accompanied by the council’s president, Rupert Hammond-Chambers.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KO SHU-LING, SHIH HSIU-CHUAN AND CNA