Taiwan to Ease Limits on American Pork and Beef, Smoothing Path for Trade Talks

Date: Monday, August 31, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

U.S. officials have long regarded the restrictions as the main barrier to closer trade links with Taiwan

HONG KONG—Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said she would ease restrictions on imports of U.S. beef and pork, clearing the biggest obstacle to free-trade talks with Washington.

At a televised news briefing Friday, Ms. Tsai said she had instructed her government to ease regulations to allow imports of American pork containing trace amounts of an animal-feed additive used by some U.S. farms, as well as U.S. beef products from cattle age 30 months and older.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on Friday the U.S. welcomes Taiwan’s decision to lift restrictions on imports of American pork and beef. “This move opens the door for even deeper economic and trade cooperation,” he said.

U.S. officials have long regarded these restrictions as the main barrier to closer trade links with Taiwan, which had resisted calls to ease such curbs citing concerns over food safety and opposition from the island’s own pig-farming industry. Ms. Tsai said her decision would be implemented in a way that addresses both issues.

The announcement came about two weeks after Ms. Tsai said she wanted to start talks on a free-trade agreement with the U.S., a key unofficial ally and a major trading partner for the island democracy. Her pursuit of closer trade links is part of an effort to strengthen ties with Washington and resist coercion from China, Taiwan’s largest trading partner and whose ruling Communist Party claims the island as its territory.

Taiwanese officials “believe that opening up further to U.S. pork and beef imports at the present time is a decision in line with overall national interests and strategic-development goals for the future,” Ms. Tsai said.

“This is also a decision that can promote Taiwan-U.S. relations.”

Ms. Tsai said the timing of her decision was driven by a desire to secure Taiwan’s economic future by playing an influential role in the restructuring of global supply chains caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, “there is still some way to go before the actual negotiation and signing of a trade agreement” with the U.S., she said.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei said in a Friday statement that it greatly appreciates the move by Ms. Tsai’s administration to resolve the issue and that it hopes Taiwan’s decision “will lead to a positive response from the U.S. regarding the possibility of entering into negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement.”

The U.S. is Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner, with two-way trade in goods and services amounting to about $94.5 billion in 2018, according to U.S. government data. Trade between Taiwan and mainland China, including Hong Kong, totaled $190.6 billion last year, according to Taiwanese government data.

The U.S. National Security Council and the State Department have been pressing for free-trade talks with Taiwan as a way to add pressure on Beijing amid escalating U.S.-China tensions over issues spanning trade, technological competition and global influence.

Trump administration officials say U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has so far stymied the idea because of Taiwanese limits on imports of American beef and pork, which stemmed from public-health concerns related to mad-cow disease and the additive ractopamine, a meat-leanness enhancer used by some U.S. meat producers.

Taiwan imposed a ban on meat imports containing ractopamine in 2006. The island has also limited U.S. beef imports to products from cattle younger than 30 months, citing risks of mad-cow disease.

Ractopamine, which is common on U.S. farms, has been a sticking point in other trade talks as well. China and the European Union also maintain bans on the additive. Studies show that ractopamine can cause stiffness, lameness and death in 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—have faced opposition from civic groups and the local pig-farming industry.

Ms. Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party has in the past opposed proposals to ease curbs on meat imports with ractopamine content. On Friday, she said the party revised its position after government health-risk assessments found no food-safety concerns with meat products containing trace amounts of ractopamine permitted under international standards.

She also promised to mitigate any impact on Taiwanese pig farmers by setting up a roughly $340 million fund to support the industry.


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