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First meeting on U.S. beef to provide initial assessment

2012/02/10 14:31:22

Taipei, Feb. 10 (CNA) The first inter-ministerial committee meeting on the issue of beef imports from the United States will offer an initial assessment on the issue, an official said Friday, adding that no conclusions or decisions will be made hastily.

The closed-door meeting will focus on ractopamine, a drug that is used as a feed additive to promote leanness in pigs and cattle, Hsu Tien-lai, director of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine under the Council of Agriculture, told the media during an interval.

In addition to talks on the application and control of such an additive, the committee will also have widespread discussions on food safety issues, he added.

There will be more meetings and each will be attended by 12 professionals and experts, the same or different ones, besides representatives from different ministries and agencies, according to the director.

Ractopamine is allowed in feed in 20-plus countries around the world but is banned in Taiwan, China, the European Union and more than 100 other countries.

Washington has been pressing Taipei to relax its 2006 ban on imported meat containing ractopamine residues.

"We'd like to gather accurate and comprehensive documents and then make an initial and thorough assessment," Hsu said.

The director reiterated that the issue is not a matter of timeliness and there are no preconceptions.

"We will continue to keep accurate information updated momentarily," he said, adding that there will be a round-up report right after the meeting ends at about 1:30 p.m.

The beef dispute is central to the re-opening of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the two sides.

In 2011, after Taiwan refused to allow the entry of shipments of U.S. beef containing ractopamine, the U.S. extended the suspension of TIFA talks.

The TIFA, signed in September 1994, provides an official framework for Taiwan-U.S. dialogue on trade and economic issues in the absence of diplomatic ties. Bilateral talks under the TIFA have been stalled since 2007.

Amid speculation that the government might ease its ractopamine ban as a result of U.S. pressure, local cattle and pig farmers and the Consumers' Foundation have threatened to stage a protest in Taipei later this month.

(By James Lee)