Untying the Three Knots in the US Beef Controversy
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 4, 2012
Summary: The new cabinet has yet to be inaugurated. But the question of whether to lift the ban on Clenbuteral treated U.S. beef is already looming. The issue has far-reaching consequences. Many conflicting forces are at work. The issues cannot be easily explained. But settling the matter as early as possible is better than letting it drag on indefinitely. Making the right trade-offs with Washington will require negotiating skill. It will also require sound communication within the Sean Chen cabinet.
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The new cabinet has yet to be inaugurated. But the question of whether to lift the ban on Clenbuteral treated U.S. beef is already looming. The issue has far-reaching consequences. Many conflicting forces are at work. The issues cannot be easily explained. But settling the matter as early as possible is better than letting it drag on indefinitely. Making the right trade-offs with Washington will require negotiating skill. It will also require sound communication within the Sean Chen cabinet.
The general election just ended. Yet the U.S. government is already pressuring our government to permit the import of U.S. beef products. Many people are unhappy. They feel the U.S. is too overbearing, especially since U.S. beef imports were linked to the restart of the US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). This reinforced the impression that the United States was applying undue pressure. The fact is beef imports are a routine trade issue. The issue could not been discussed rationally for two reasons. One. Clenbuterol involves food safety. Two. Last year Taiwan was caught up in election fever, in political rivalry between the ruling and opposition parties. Now that the elections are over, the issue can now be put back on the table.
To effectively address the problem of U.S. beef imports, we must first untie three knots. Only then can the government understand the bottom line and what principles is must adhere to. Only then will the public understand that its interests have not been sacrificed, and the dignity of the nation has not been impugned.
The first knot that must be untied involves trade and foreign relations. If we persist in seeing the ban on U.S. beef imports as diplomatic wrangling, then most people will demand that we boycott US beef to the bitter end, that we make every effort to safeguard our sovereignty and save face. But if we see the ban on U.S. beef imports as trade negotiations, as a bargaining chip in exchange for greater economic and trade benefits, such as the restart of TIFA, or even visa-free entry to the US, then the Clenbuterol controversy need not be seen as some sort of Quixotic battle for "national dignity".
The heart of the problem is U.S. beef. It has nothing to do with any other country's beef. It is a reflection of the special relationship between Taipei and Washington. This relationship includes trade, diplomatic, military and other long-term partnerships. This makes it different from relations with other countries. That said, we need not acquiesce to every US demand. Our government must weigh our larger interests and adhere to the principles of fair trade. It must demand that U.S. meat suppliers provide products whose quality is in line with our requirements. It need not blindly succumb. For example, the government can use domestic opposition as leverage. It can demand that American businesses provide their own meat inspection reports, instead of putting all the pressure on Taiwan.
The second knot to be untied is to distinguish between consumption and production, and to distinguish between beef, pork and other animal products. The domestic agricultural sector is strongly opposed to allowing the import of meats containing Clenbuterol, or with adopting the two-track system used in Japan. The main reason is that the domestic meat industry has successfully banned the use of Clenbuterol. It has an excellent reputation, at home and abroad. US beef imports must not be allowed to undermine that reputation. Therefore U.S. beef imports must not be allowed to negatively affect the domestic pork, poultry, and other meat industries. If our domestic meat industry is affected, then allowing imports would be an unwise move.
The government has decided to deal with the pork and beef issues separately, This is the right approach. Consider another perspective. The reason U.S. beef has a market on Taiwan is that many consumers consider U.S. beef higher in quality and better in taste, Domestic production of beef is limited. U.S. beef imports are unlikely to affect the domestic cattle industry. But they would meet the needs of consumers. From the consumer's perspective, this does not conflict with the interests of the ROC Swine Association.
The third knot that must be untied is whether "national health" would be sacrificed. Clenbuterol is not the same as mad cow disease. This is clear from the scientific research. That is why so many countries have minimum allowable standards. These are all available for reference. Allowing the use of Clenbuterol does not mean sacrificing the health of our citizens. As American Institute in Taiwan official Richard Bush put it. the U.S. would not sell its trading partners unsafe food. Whether the food is safe should be left to food safety experts. The government should allow experts to set standards within an internationally accepted range. Is should keep a close watch for any violations. It should require sellers of beef products to provide labels identifying their origin, enabling consumers to identify then purchase or boycott them. This way any concerns that the "National Health would be sacrificed" will be allayed.
The U.S. beef imports controversy has dragged on for years. Can it be resolved? This may well be an acid test for the Chen cabinet. One fear is that the government may be impatient, It may be tempted to operate under the table. Its decisions may not win public understanding and support, or even invite a backlash. An even greater fear is that officials will be afraid to act. Nothing will be done. They will continue spining their wheels. They will fail to live up to public expectations for the new cabinet. .
2012.02.04 01:43 am