Trump administration officials say U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has so far stymied the idea, due to his objections to what he considers Taiwan’s protectionist policies that curtail imports of American beef and pork over the presence of the additive ractopamine, a meat-leanness enhancer used by some U.S. meat producers.
“We still face longstanding trade barriers that restrict market access for U.S. beef and pork products, despite previous commitments by Taiwan to fix these problems,” Mr. Lighthizer wrote recently to Sen. John Cornyn (R, Texas). “Resolving these issues will be critical to deepening our trade and investment relationship with Taiwan.”
Taiwan first imposed curbs on American beef in December 2003 after the discovery of a case of mad-cow disease in the U.S. The restrictions were later eased but Taipei subsequently banned meat imports containing ractopamine.
Most countries have concerns about ractopamine, which is common on U.S. farms, and has been a sticking point in other trade talks as well. China and the European Union are among U.S. trading partners with bans on the additive. Studies show that ractopamine can cause stiffness, lameness and death among animals. Countries also disagree about how much of the additive is safe for human consumption.
In 2012, Taiwan’s legislature passed a bill to allow beef imports with trace amounts of ractopamine, but proposals to ease the island’s zero-tolerance policy on the additive in other meat products—like pork—faced vocal opposition from civic groups and the local pig-farming industry.
Ms. Tsai didn’t refer explicitly to disagreements over U.S. meat imports, but appeared to suggest that compromises could be found on that front. “We want to work together to resolve these issues in a way that is safe for our consumers and also consistent with established scientific standards,” she said.
“I believe that the people of Taiwan can see the value and wisdom in building closer economic relations with the U.S.,” Ms. Tsai said. “And conversely we hope that the U.S. recognizes the broader strategic implications such an agreement would undoubtedly have.”