By Mo Yan-chih / Staff reporter
Mon, Mar 05, 2012 - Page 3
Faced with domestic concerns about the safety of US beef and pressure from Washington on US beef imports, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) held a closed-door meeting on Friday night with Cabinet officials and explored ways to resolve the matter.
However, the three-hour meeting failed to yield a new strategy. Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said the president reiterated the government’s neutral stance on handling the US beef import issue, saying there was no timetable and no presumptions, adding that the government would respect professional opinions from experts while making public health a top priority.
For analysts, the Ma administration’s indecisiveness shows its political opportunism in handling the issue, which could have serious consequences if the government fails to resolve the disputes in a timely manner.
Political critic Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒) of National Dong Hwa University said the Ma administration underestimated public concerns over the health risk of the feed additive used in US beef when it promised Washington to resolve the issue soon, and any attempts to prove that ractopamine posed no harm to the human body would fail as the issue carried political implications.
“Politics and diplomacy are involved in the US beef import issue. Handling such a delicate issue is a great challenge for Ma and he and the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] will pay a price if he ignores domestic opposition against the importation of US beef and succumbs to US pressure,” he said.
Washington has been pressing Taipei to relax its ban on imported meat containing ractopamine residue, which was imposed in 2006. The US extended the suspension of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the two sides after Taiwan blocked shipments of US beef containing residue of the lean-meat enhancing additive last year.
Soon after his re-election in -January, Ma sat down with -American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt in Taipei and promised that the new Cabinet would address the US beef import issue after re-assuming office last month.
The meeting sparked speculation about the government’s attempt to ease its ractopamine residue ban as a result of US pressure, especially as Taiwan seeks to proceed with the TIFA talks with the US while seeking to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The postponement of a visit to Taipei by US Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez, who was -scheduled to arrive yesterday, is said to be a latest move from the US to put more pressure on the Ma administration to address the matter.
Facing mounting concerns about the health risks of the feed additive, KMT legislators joined the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in opposing the imports of US beef.
Even former Department of Health minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) said it was unlikely that the expert meeting on the effect of ractopamine on the human body could reach a conclusion and it would be “unwise” for Ma if he succumbed to US pressure and forcefully lifted the ban on the use of ractopamine in meat products.
* 《Taipei times》2012/03/05。