Taipei, June 27 (CNA) Taiwan should liberalize trade, including in the area of beef imports, to reduce trade barriers with the United States, as part of its efforts to sign a free trade pact with the U.S., an American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) official said Wednesday.
AIT Director William Stanton said he is "mindful of Taiwan's expressive desire" to have a free trade agreement with the U.S. and become a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Pacific Rim free trade pact.
To demonstrate its commitment and ability to achieve the goals, Taiwan must undertake reforms to "make its economy more open and competitive," he said in an address at a luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (AmCham).
Noting the close trading relations between Taipei and Washington, Stanton said he wanted to "encourage Taiwan to be more open to U.S. products and to engage in more trade liberalization."
He also described the U.S. beef issue as the symbol of Taiwan's protected markets.
The issue of whether to allow imports of U.S. beef that contain traces of ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing drug fed to livestock that is banned in Taiwan, has been hotly debated in Taiwan in recently months.
Ractopamine is commonly and safely used in the U.S. and accepted in South Korea, Japan and other countries, Stanton said. But "critics quickly seized on the issue and chose to misrepresent the facts and misinform Taiwan consumers about the safety of U.S. beef," he said.
Resolving the beef issue would provide Taiwan with the opportunity to show its commitment to free trade principles based on sound science and its orientation toward opening rather than restricting access to the market, Stanton said.
In March, the government proposed conditionally lifting the ban on U.S. beef with ractopamine. The conditions included specifying a safe level of ractopamine, issuing separate permits for beef and pork imports and mandating the labeling of beef imports.
But the decision has sparked stiff opposition among opposition parties and many civic groups.
Taiwan's Legislature is set to vote on amendments to a food safety act related to the beef issue in an extra legislative session in late July.
Stanton said that for Taiwan to push for a free trade deal with the U.S., it will need to open its market to international competition, a process he suggested will be very difficult because many domestic industries enjoy high levels of protection from foreign competition.
But Stanton said he was encouraged by recent remarks by President Ma Ying-jeou expressing the need for Taiwan to escape its domestic-focused isolation and become a member of the 21st century global economy.
(By Elaine Hou)