The administration is assessing the possibility of lifting the present ban on Canadian beef earlier than expected, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday.
"Taiwan was the fifth largest market for Canadian beef and the export volume was worth C$20 million (NT$580 million) each year," Chen said. "The Department of Health is appraising the possibility of reopening the market to Canadian beef and hopes to resume importing it earlier than planned."
Chen made the remarks while addressing a visiting delegation of Canadian parliamentarians at the Presidential Office yesterday morning.
Chen told the foreign guests that a preliminary report presented to him last month by the National Health Research Institute said that the risk posed by mad cow disease in Canadian beef was minimal.
"I am sure the scientific appraisal will be of great help to the resumption of the importation of Canadian beef," Chen said. "I hope the Canadian government will also offer assistance and provide professional input in a bid to help speed up the evaluation process."
Several Asian markets, including China, Japan and Taiwan, banned Canadian beef after a mad cow case in Canada in May 2003.
Hsiao Tung-ming (蕭東銘), head of the health department's Bureau of Food Safety, said yesterday that there was no timetable for lifting the ban on Canadian beef and that the bureau was waiting for authorities in Canada to provide necessary information.
As Taiwan is Canada's seventh-largest source of tourists, Chen called on the Canadian government yesterday to offer visa-free travel for Taiwanese visitors.
Statistics show that an average of 100,000 Taiwanese tourists visit Canada each year.
Taiwan also ranks seventh on the list of countries that send students to study in Canada, while Canada ranks fourth on the list of Taiwanese students' favorite countries for advanced study, Chen said.
There currently are 15,000 Taiwanese students studying in Canada, a number that has grown by about 2,500 students per year.
Chen also extended his thanks for the Canadian parliament's support for Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization.
Chen thanked the Canadian government for urging both sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve the disputes through peaceful dialogue. He also acknowledged the Canadian parliament's concern over China's passage of the "Anti-Secession" Law.
With Taiwan and Canada now negotiating various technological cooperation programs, Chen said that he would like to see progress being made.