President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said in Panama on Thursday that he was looking forward to an early agreement with the US on beef imports to Taiwan. Ma, who arrived in Panama City on Tuesday to attend new Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli’s inauguration, made the remarks during an informal gathering with Taiwanese reporters covering his two-leg Central American diplomatic tour.
According to Ma, his administration has been in talks with the US since last August on the possibility of putting US bone-in beef, shredded beef, beef tripe, offal and other beef products back onto Taiwan’s store shelves after a five-year ban.
“But the two sides have not yet reached any agreement on the timing and scope of such imports,” Ma said.
However, he said his administration would reopen the door to those products only if they meet the standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
“We’ll lift the ban only after we are sure that those products pose no health risks to our consumers,” Ma said.
Taiwan banned US beef in 2003 when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) — also called mad cow disease — was diagnosed in Seattle.
The ban was partially lifted in April 2005 to allow imports of US de-boned beef from cattle under 30 months old, but was reimposed two months later when a second BSE case was discovered in the US.
In 2006, Taiwan once again agreed to allow US beef imports, but only boneless beef from cattle under 30 months old produced by certified slaughterhouses.
Over the past three years, the volume of US beef imports has been increasing year-on-year, and accounts for around 32 percent of Taiwan’s beef market.
The US government has been pushing Taiwan to allow all US beef imports. Outgoing American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young said at his farewell press conference last Friday that progress on the beef issue would create a good atmosphere for what is already the Obama administration’s commitment to working across a whole range of agricultural, trade and investment issues related to Taiwan.
During Thursday’s news briefing, Ma said the beef products the US government intends to sell Taiwan are on the daily menu of 300 million US citizens and no human infections of mad cow disease have been reported there.
Adding that the issue has been up in the air for quite a while, Ma said he hopes for a conclusion soon based on all available scientific data and evidence.