Taipei, March 9 (CNA) Premier Sean Chen said Friday that the government will stick to its principle of treating pork imports as separate from beef imports and will not allow pork containing residue of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine to enter the country.
Chen said that out of concern for public health, the principle "cannot be compromised," given that pork is a more common ingredient than beef in local diets.
The policy is also intended to protect the livelihoods of local farmers, he told reporters at the Legislative Yuan.
The Executive Yuan announced March 5 its decision to move toward lifting a ban on imports of U.S. beef containing residue of ractopamine based on four principles: allowing a safe level of ractopamine in beef; separating the permits for importing beef and pork; clearly labeling imported beef; and excluding imports of internal organs.
The decision, however, has drawn strong protests from local pig farmers, who have expressed distrust in the government's ability to honor its commitment and have demanded that the government maintain its zero-tolerance policy toward ractopamine. They fear that the entry of ractopamine-tainted beef will set the stage for the import of ractopamine-tainted pork in the future, which could threaten their livelihoods.
Some opposition legislators and academics share their views.
According to Chan Chang-chuan, a public health professor at National Taiwan University, the beef and pork issues have been lumped together in previous trade talks between Taiwan and the United States.
Chan warned that the U.S. government can demand that Taiwan must set a maximum permissible level for ractopamine residue in pork once such a caphas been set for beef. Washington can even exert pressure on Taiwan throughthe World Trade Organization, he added.
Despite speculation that the government is being forced to open Taiwan's market wider to U.S. beef under pressure from Washington, the premier, however, said he "has not felt any pressure from the U.S. side."
He said the beef trade has always been an issue of contention but that the U.S. government has always discussed the issue with Taiwan in a rational and reasonable manner.
Later, in an interpellation session at the Legislative Yuan, Chen disagreed with ruling Kuomintang Legislator Chen Ken-te, who accused American Institute in Taiwan Taipei Office Director William Stanton of using "threatening language" by calling Taiwan'sractopamine ban a "stumbling block" to free trade.
In an interview with CNA, Stanton said resolving the beef dispute will help improve relations between Taiwan and the United States and allow the two sides to rapidly move on to discuss other trade issues such as the resumption of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
Stanton, however, denied that there is any connection between the beef issue and the issue of whether to include Taiwan in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Timothy Yang said Washington has discussed the beef issue with Taiwan since 2005 or 2006, ever since the administration of former President Chen Shu-bian.
The former government once planned to set a maximum permissible level for ractopamine residue in beef and pork and even notified the World Trade Organization about the plan in 2007, but the plan was never implemented, according to Yang.
"Therefore, the U.S. thinks the Taiwan government has not honored its commitment," he noted.
The government is now trying to resolve the dispute because it "understands very well the importance of Taiwan-U.S. relations," Yang said.
When it allows imports of U.S. beef containing ractopamine, the government will make sure the residue of the drug is within a safe level, he said.
According to Department of Health (DOH) Minister Chiu Wen-ta, the range of options under consideration runs from 0 ppb to 10 ppb.
Detailed discussion will be required before the DOH can come to a decision, Chiu went on, adding that the DOH has set no timetable for the matter.
(By Ho Meng-kuei, Kelven Huang, Wen Kuei-hsing and Y.F. Low)