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Civic groups mount call-in against US beef

Taipei Times, Taiwan

Civic groups mount call-in against US beef

By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter

11 June 2012

Civic groups and the Consumers’ Foundation yesterday encouraged consumers to call legislators and urge them to vote against relaxing a ban on ractopamine residues in US meat products, stressing that the health of Taiwanese should not be used as a trading chip for economic development.

A vote on amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) is scheduled for tomorrow in the legislature, which if the ban on ractopamine residues in meat products is relaxed, restrictions on US beef imports would be eased.

Quoting President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) from last week about the decision on US beef imports having significant influence on whether Taiwan could become an open and liberalized economy, the foundation said the government should halt all US beef imports until clear scientific evidence proves the meat products containing the residues are not harmful to health.

A meeting next month of the Codex Alimentarius Commission would continue its discussions on the maximum safe level of ractopamine residue, foundation chairperson Joann Su (蘇錦霞) said.

“Why can’t we wait until July to make the decision after an international consensus has been achieved?” she asked.

Although the government has stated that relaxing the ban was needed to resume negotiations with the US on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), Su said: “Can it be guaranteed that our nation’s economy will be truly opened and liberalized if TIFA negotiations resume? And is it worth it to trade people’s health to regain the right to negotiate the TIFA?”

The civic groups and the foundation urged legislators who had proposed a zero-tolerance policy to remain insistent on their proposals and encouraged consumers to call lawmakers to express their opposition to relaxing the ban.

Meanwhile, a non-profit business organization in Washington said on Saturday that Taiwan’s chances of entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are linked to the resumption of trade talks with Washington under a bilateral agreement.

If the legislature votes to relax the ban on US beef imports containing ractopamine tomorrow, Washington would resume TIFA talks with Taipei, US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said.

In turn, the only way for Taiwan to win the support of the US for entry to the TPP is for the two sides to move toward the resumption of TIFA talks, he said in an interview.

Talks under the TIFA, which was signed in 1994, have been stalled since 2007, mainly over Taiwan’s restrictions on US beef imports. Asked about Taiwan’s chances of signing a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US, Hammond-Chambers said “it’s not possible at this stage” since US President Barack Obama’s administration is currently focused on the TPP, not an FTA.

However, if TIFA talks can be resumed, the two sides could discuss issues related to e-commerce and bilateral investment treaties that would help create business opportunities for both sides, he said.

The Office of the US Trade Representative said in an e-mail interview that the US would support Taiwan’s inclusion in the TPP “at an appropriate time.”

The US supports any new candidate for membership that shows the ambition to reach the high standards of the TPP, the office said.

Taiwan is eager to be included in the TPP agreement being negotiated by leaders of nine countries — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US.