Hoping for trade deal, Taiwan to ease standards for U.S. pork, beef

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in her address at the Presidential Office in Taipei on Friday (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced Friday that Taiwan will set standards for a controversial feed additive in imported pork and ease restrictions on American beef in an apparent attempt to pave the way to broker a trade deal with the United States.

Tsai said at a press conference that Taiwan will set standards for ractopamine residue in imported pork despite her Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP’s) long insistence on a zero tolerance policy toward the leanness-promoting additive.

She said she has instructed government agencies to set a “safety tolerance” level for ractopamine residue in imported pork based on scientific evidence and international standards, on the precondition that the public’s health is protected.

Taiwan will also open its market to U.S. beef from cattle aged over 30 months, which has been barred because of fears of mad-cow disease, according to Tsai.

Tsai said she made the decision after years of “cautious evaluation” by the government on what she described as a long-existing problem of pork and beef imports from the U.S.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文, third right) (CNA)

“This is a decision that was made based on national economic interests and is in line with future comprehensive strategic objectives,” Tsai argued, referring to Taiwan’s desire to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States.

She said some Taiwan regulations are not in step with global rules and have created barriers to economic cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S., and argued that these steps concerning pork and beef imports from the U.S. will be a “significant starting point” in promoting closer bilateral economic ties.

Issues concerning American beef and pork imports have been barriers to trade between Taiwan and the U.S. as far back as the mid-2000s, with Washington using the issues to block discussions on investment and trade and possible talk of a free trade agreement with Taipei.

Late last year, 161 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged the U.S. government to restart negotiations on forging bilateral trade links with Taiwan.

In a letter in February responding to the appeal, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that for the goal to be achieved, “existing trade barriers” should be removed first, referring to Taiwan’s restrictions on imports of certain U.S. beef and pork products.

Source: U.S. Congressman Steve Chabot’s office

Though the decision was politically motivated, Tsai said it would meet international food safety standards.

The government has the duty to make sure all food products in the market adhere to standards that meet international criteria, she said. “On this, we have not made any compromises or concessions.”

The DPP was strongly opposed to ractopamine when it was an opposition party during the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration (2008-2016), and occupied the Legislature in March 2012 to block a bill on allowing ractopamine in beef.

That attitude toward beef changed after the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted maximum residue level standards for ractopamine in pork and beef by a narrow 69-67 vote in July 2012, though DPP figures have maintained their opposition to traces of the additive in pork.

The MRLs established were 10 parts per billion of ractopamine in pork and beef meat, 40 ppb in livers, and 90 ppb in kidneys.

Defending this change in policy, Tsai said that since July 2010, more scientific evidence on the safety of the leanness-enhancing drug had emerged, even though the European Union, China, and many other countries around the world continue to maintain ractopamine bans to this day.

Tsai said that since Taiwan opened its market for American beef containing limited ractopamine residue levels in 2012, it has not caused any food safety problems in Taiwan, and its consumption in Taiwan has risen.

Japan, South Korea and Singapore have opened their markets to imported pork containing traces of ractopamine, she said, and after years of risk assessments on meat with traces of ractopamine, the government is satisfied there are no safety concerns as long as the standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission are followed.

“Restrictions on imported food products should be set based on scientific evidence and international standards,” Tsai said.