ANALYSIS: Decision on US beef sparks round of meaty questions*




By Jenny W. hsu
Sunday, Oct 25, 2009, Page 3


Less than 24 hours after American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director William Stanton said in Taipei that “sensitivity” to public sentiment had to be applied to the issue of reintroducing US beef in Taiwan and that it should be done “gradually,” Taiwan and the US signed an accord in Washington whereby a three-year ban on US bone-in beef and other beef products was lifted.

The controversial move has caused an uproar in Taiwan, with sharp criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

While the government has presented it strictly as a food-safety issue, some analysts said the move was a political measure by President Ma Ying-jeou (
馬英九) to fix his relations with Washington without giving any regard to expert advice from the Department of Health (DOH).

The US beef saga has been punctuated with multiple openings and closings.

In 2003, Taiwan banned US beef after a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) — commonly known as mad cow disease — was discovered in Seattle. The ban lasted until 2005, when the government gave the green light for boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age.

The ban was reinstated two months later after a second case of BSE was confirmed in the US.

In 2006, the DOH announced on its Web site that it was once again lifting the ban, with the condition that only boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months produced by certified slaughterhouses were permitted to enter Taiwan. The move sparked criticism, mostly from then-Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (
賴幸媛), who accused the government of toying with public welfare to curry favor with Washington.

Since the partial lift three years ago, the US government has pushed Taiwan for a comprehensive opening to a full range of US beef and beef products.

Taiwan’s reluctance, however, resulted in unwillingness by the US to hold regular Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with Taiwan

Hours before the agreement on beef imports was signed, Stanton said in Taipei that beef negotiations were in their final phase and that TIFA talks would most likely be held before the end of the year.

“US beef is definitely a political move. It could even have been made so that the proposed US arms sale to Taiwan would go through more quickly. Perhaps it was timed around [US] President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia so he would have something to bring back home. But it was also a way for Ma to ease the US concerns over his China-friendly policies,” said Luo Chih-cheng (
羅致政), a professor of political science at Soochow University.

Luo said he did not believe that Taiwan’s hope of joining the US visa-waiver program was a factor in the decision, because inclusion in the program was a technical issue that hinges on Taiwan’s passport issuance process.

Meanwhile, National Dong Hwa University professor Shih Cheng-feng (
施正鋒) said that: “Even if we delink the beef issue from politics, it is doubtful that Ma has done a good job safeguarding the health of Taiwanese.”

If the government had treated the US beef quagmire solely on the basis of health, he said, it would have been easier to reject US demands because “who would argue against protecting the health of your citizens?”

If Ma administration had stood its ground, the US would have had no choice but to back off, he said.

“It is safe to say that reopening Taiwan to US beef at this time was Ma’s way to appease the US government, which has been very suspicious of his leadership and intentions because he has been so China-friendly,” he said.

Lai Yi-chung (
賴怡忠), a researcher at Taiwan Think Tank, said he suspected Ma was using US beef as a salve to mollify his image in Washington.

“From being slow in accepting US offers of assistance during Typhoon Morakot to Ma’s eagerness to create rapprochement with Beijing, these actions have made Washington and countries in the region question his ultimate strategy,” said Lai, who once served as deputy of the Democratic Progressive Party’s International Affairs Department. “One can speculate that relaxing the ban on US beef could expedite the arms sale or Taiwan’s inclusion in the visa-waiver program. But the root of the problem is that this shows us that Ma is losing his grip on the bottom line.”

Alexander Huang (
黃介正), a professor at the Graduate Institute of the Americas at Tamkung University, said the Ma administration must release the country’s standards on US beef so that the public can compare national standards with those in Japan and South Korea.

South Korea was the latest Asian country to abolish the ban on US beef — on the condition that only boneless meat from cattle under 30 months of age would be permitted to enter the market.

“If the meat truly meets our standards and is also acceptable in other countries, then it should not be a big issue,” he said, adding that whether the move was a political gambit by either government had yet to be determined.

Luo and Shih said the DOH was ignored in the process and that the decision was made by the upper echelons of the government.

“Judging from DOH Minister Yaung Chih-liang’s [
楊志良] comments, it is clear that he disagrees with the government — he even feels that Taiwan has conceded too much,” Luo said, referring to the minister’s comments during a press conference, where he said he was “unsatisfied” with the outcome and that opening Taiwan’s market to US beef offal was beyond what he had anticipated.

Yang did not sit at the negotiation table with the US. The talks were led by DOH Deputy Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (

While Yang yesterday offered to resign, Luo said this would be the wrong person to step down because it would mean that the official who made the decision would remain in office.
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*Taipei Times》2009/10/25