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China Times: Resolving U.S. beef row takes reason, balance

2012/06/12 18:21:23

A fight is poised to break out in the Legislature over a controversial bill to open Taiwan to U.S. beef containing the drug ractopamine, but the ensuing legislative stalemate does little to seek out what serves Taiwan best or to foster a "harmonious society."

A draft bill to allow such imports into Taiwan proposed by the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) administration has not been able to clear the Legislature due to opposition from lawmakers, activists and livestock farmers who have raised concern over the potential health risks of consuming such beef.

Opposition forces led by the Democratic Progressive Party filibustered the bill by occupying the legislative podium overnight, prompting KMT lawmakers to mobilize party members in a bid to put up a resistance on the Legislative floor to ensure that the session can proceed smoothly.

The legislative stalemate not only hurts Taiwan's international image but also leaves little room for rational discussion or for policy-makers to make informed decisions that balance the pros and cons.

Regarding the health risks that are often cited as cause for concern by critics of the bill, the medical community has yet to produce evidence confirming that consumption of beef containing ractopamine is harmful to health.

It is also impractical, however, for livestock farmers not to use any additives in raising animals, while it is practical to set up a maximum level of additives allowed in feed.

It is wiser to factor in the different benefits to different parties when making decisions instead of letting a one-sided view drown out all other voices and possibilities, including economic and diplomatic interests that hinge on the bill.

Survival in the international arena is far from easy for Taiwan, and even more so given the looming specter of economic turmoil in the world and Taiwan's declining exports.

The other Asian tigers -- South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong -- have grown faster than Taiwan, and any slacking off in the international race for development risks leaving the country behind.

Though the economic benefits brought about by the Taiwan-China Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement are undeniable, Taiwan should avoid being over-reliant on China and should step up its efforts to ink free trade deals with other countries to diversify the risks, which is also what the DPP has always argued.

The United States has made it clear that Taiwan opening up to its beef imports is a prerequisite for important bilateral trade talks such as the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

However, any free-trade agreements come with tradeoffs and Taiwan should brace itself for paying its share of the price in exchange for the economic benefits brought by such deals.

A free-trade agreement with the U.S. looks more likely than with other trade powerhouses, given that the U.S. is Taiwan's third-largest trading partner and has been a staunch ally of Taiwan in international affairs.

It might not be necessary to treat the U.S. beef issue as a David and Goliath issue, considering the uncertain health hazards U.S. beef has for humans and the government's commitment to setting permissible levels of the drug and enforcing clear labeling of additives in meat, among other safety measures, to ensure that consumers can make their own informed choices. (Editorial abstract -- June 12, 2012)

(By Scully Hsiao)