The US had planned to resume the stalled Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) negotiations with Taiwan last year despite disputes over US beef imports, but ended up dropping the plan after Taiwan made ractopamine-laced US beef a hot-button issue, sources said.
Former Department of Health minister Yaung Chih-liang’s (楊志良) hastily called press conference on Jan. 14 last year, during which he announced that ractopamine traces had been detected in imported US beef, “spoiled the US plan to set aside the ractopamine dispute and move on with the resumption of TIFA talks,” a former government official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Taipei Times.
Yaung refused to call off the press conference even though the National Security Council (NSC) had recommended he do so, the source said.
Before the ractopamine controversy last year, Taiwan and the US had had similar disputes over US beef imports due to concerns about the mad cow disease in 2009 and ractopamine-laced US pork imports in 2007.
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) was so keen on resuming the stalled trade talks that AIT Director William Stanton and US State Department officials recommended filing the ractopamine disputes with the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, he said.
“The idea was to leave the unresolved disputes there [in the WTO] and to resume the TIFA talks. But the press conference changed everything,” the source said.
The security council had asked Yaung to cancel the press conference because it knew an arrangement on TIFA was in place, the former official added.
A TIFA meeting scheduled to take place in late January last year in Taipei was postponed indefinitely as the dispute over US beef imports intensified.
Yaung, who resigned in February last year, admitted later that high-ranking officials had pressured him and advised against the press conference, but he was backed by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Ma has no one to blame but himself for his three blunders on the US beef issues in 2009, 2010 and this year, the former official said.
Ma mishandled the Taiwan-US beef protocol in 2009, the US beef controversy related to the mad cow disease in 2010 and the attempt this year to lift the ban on ractopamine, he added.
Miscommunication between US agencies and the inconsistent comments they delivered to Taiwanese officials further complicated the matter, the source said.
AIT spokesperson Sheila Paskman declined to confirm the comments.
“Our general policy has not changed. AIT has always called on the Taiwan government to make a decision about beef based on the scientific facts,” she said in an e-mail.
“We look forward to a resolution to this issue which would allow Taiwan consumers to have the same opportunity as consumers in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and other countries to enjoy our beef,” she added.
In a speech on Wednesday, Stanton described the ongoing controversy as a “hostage to domestic political battle” in the legislature and warned Taiwan about possible repercussions for US-Taiwan relations.