WASHINGTON — Top U.S. lawmakers urged President Ma Ying-jeou on Thursday to roll back what they branded unscientific restrictions on U.S. beef exports and warned the issue could cripple free trade talks.
“The scientific evidence is clear that U.S. beef is safe and that there is no food-safety justification for these actions,” said the chairmen and ranking members of two U.S. Congress committees with broad sway over trade matters.
“We urge you to take prompt corrective measures to restore trade and avoid further damage to our bilateral trade relations,” they wrote in letter made public by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat.
The top Republican on his panel, Senator Orrin Hatch, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and the top Democrat on that panel, Representative Sander Levin, also signed the letter.
The lawmakers warned of “serious negative consequences” for bilateral trade, and said a solution was needed “to begin to restore the confidence necessary” to resume trade talks dormant since 2007.
Taiwan pulled shipments of U.S. beef from store shelves last month after they were found to contain a drug, Paylean, used to promote leanness in animals raised for meat.
Taiwan, China and the European Union restrict Paylean because of possible human health risks associated with the ingredient ractopamine, but 26 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil, have declared the product safe.
The U.S. lawmakers said in their letter that Taiwan had effectively “recognized the safety of ractopamine” when its health department wrote to the World Trade Organization in 2007 to say it planned to set what amounted to a ceiling on the amount of residue permitted in cattle and swine.
Beef exports from the United States — Taiwan’s main source — “have ground to a halt” the lawmakers said, warning that “Taiwan’s scientifically unjustified policy” was also hurting sales of U.S. pork.