Taipei, May 30 (CNA) Taiwan's ban on U.S. beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine has impacted bilateral trade relations but is not linked to any other agendas, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said Wednesday.
"Beef is trade, visa waiver is visa waiver, arms sales is arms sales," AIT spokesman Christopher Kavanagh said in a luncheon meeting with local media. The AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties.
"We treat those things as separate issues," he said.
There has been speculation that President Ma Ying-jeou's administration made a secret deal with the U.S. government, promising to open the domestic market to imports of U.S. beef containing ractopamine in exchange for admission to the U.S. visa waiver program.
"There is absolutely no relation between visa waiver and beef," the spokesman reiterated, adding that Washington did not threaten or force Taipei to accept beef products in exchange for other interests, as some local lawmakers have claimed.
Kavanagh, nevertheless, acknowledged that the beef issue was "the only factor which thwarted our efforts to resume the TIFA talks in 2010 and 2011."
Talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which was signed in 1994 as a framework for Taiwan-U.S. dialogue on trade-related issues, have been put on indefinite hold because of U.S. dissatisfaction with Taiwan's beef ban.
Asked how resolving the beef issue would benefit Taiwan in terms of its goal of getting involved in regional economic integration, he later told CNA in an email that "it will be an important factor for long-term economic growth."
"This is a very interesting time in the region with a lot of exciting developments, such as the recent entry into force of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. We certainly welcome Taiwan's efforts to be part of such long-term developments," he said.
Despite protests from civic groups concerned about the health risks of ractopamine, the Ma administration in March proposed lifting the ban on imports of beef containing ractopamine residue, based on a number of guidelines, including setting a safe level for the drug and insisting on clear labeling of meat imports.
"We welcome the positive statements and moves by President Ma and his administration to establish food safety standards that are based on scientific evidence, in particular setting a maximum residue level for ractopamine in beef," he said.
Kavanagh also noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture made arrangements to accommodate Taiwanese officials who visited slaughterhouses to review the safety of U.S. beef after the discovery of new case of mad cow disease in California in April.
"We welcomed the opportunity to reassure Taiwan's experts that the U.S. cattle herd is one of the healthiest in the world and that the U.S. meat and dairy supply is safe," he said.
Imports of U.S. beef have been a sore point in trade ties between Taipei and Washington for many years.
Taiwan first banned beef imports from the U.S. when a case of mad cow disease was reported in the state of Washington in December 2003 and then re-opened its doors to imports of boneless U.S. beef from cattle aged under 30 months in April 2005.
It imposed another ban in June 2005 when a second U.S. mad cow disease case was reported.
Imports of boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age were resumed in 2006 and bone-in beef was granted entry in late 2009, but Washington has been pressing for wider opening and, more recently, has lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on beef containing ractopamine.
(By Nancy Liu)