Taiwan-US trade talks halted over beef drug


TAIPEI–The United States has decided to postpone a trade meeting with Taiwan after some U.S. beef products found to contain residue from an animal drug were taken off the shelves of local supermarkets, Taiwanese officials said yesterday.

The meeting, under the two-way Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), was originally slated for later this month in Taipei.

It has been canceled by the United States, which has not made “any further response to date,” officials familiar with the matter said.

This was the second time that the Taiwan-U.S. TIFA meeting was aborted due to a controversy over farm product quarantines.

The TIFA, signed in September 1994, provides an official framework for Taiwan-U.S. dialogue on trade and economic issues in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, but the two sides have not held any TIFA talks since 2007 due chiefly to conflict over a Taiwanese ban on U.S. beef imports.

The United States urged Taiwan last week to follow in the steps of other countries, like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, and set a minimum residual level (MRL) of the animal drug ractopamine allowable in meat.

Ratopamine promotes leanness in meat and poses the smallest threat to human beings among a variety of similar drugs, according to the Taiwanese officials, who declined to be named.

Taiwan bans the use of such animal feed additives and locally produced meat cannot contain any residue of the drugs.

According to the Taiwanese officials, the United States certainly would express its concern over the issue, as U.S. beef products enjoy a 40 percent market share in Taiwan.

Without an MRL in place, it would be difficult for Taiwan to purchase imported beef products, they said, adding that Taiwan relies heavily on imports to meet its beef consumption.

It is better to impose a strict MRL so as to more positively manage the imports of foreign beef products, they suggested.

Ractopamine was also at the center of a dispute in 2007 when the Department of Health (DOH) and the Council of Agriculture (COA) wanted to lift the ban, which prompted a massive protest from local pig farmers who are banned from any use of the drug.

The two agencies later agreed to keep the ban but proposed a revision of the allowable maximum residue levels, but this has not been carried out due to the protests.