United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 23, 2015
Executive Summary: Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Cho Shih-chao recently said that if Taiwan wants to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it must allow US pork imports. US pork may not taste good. It may taste "gamey". But we can label the place of origin and allow consumers to decide what to buy. The very next day however, Cho Shih-chao changed his tune. He said "That was merely my personal opinion". He said if he had known a reporter was present that day, he would not have said it out loud.
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Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Cho Shih-chao recently said that if Taiwan wants to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it must allow US pork imports. US pork may not taste good. It may taste "gamey". But we can label the place of origin and allow consumers to decide what to buy. The very next day however, Cho Shih-chao changed his tune. He said "That was merely my personal opinion". He said if he had known a reporter was present that day, he would not have said it out loud.
Cho Shih-chao's panic and backpedaling is easy to understand. If we wish to join the TPP, we must of course comply with TPP regulations. If we unilaterally impose limits on US pork imports, we will not be allowed to join the TPP. One cannot have one's cake and eat it too. The trade-offs must be weighed against one another. A general election looms. If the ruling party touches these hot button issues, it is certain to invite opposition party allegations that the government is "indifferent to the interests of pig farmers". Pig farmers are certain to take to the streets in protest. The KMT's election prospects are already dim. Cho Shih-chao hastily backpedaled. He knew he stirred up a hornet's nest.
The problem is threefold. One. Do we want to join the TPP or not? If we do not, can we confidently thrive amidst international competition? Two. If we must join the TPP, the United States will insist that we allow the US pork imports. If we refuse, won't we be prevented from joining? Is there is some loophole that would allow us to join the TPP regardless? Three. Are we willing to safeguard the interests of Taiwan's pig farmers at the expense of other industries? Do they not matter? Does joining the TPP no longer matter?
Cho Shih-chao said that "We must allow US pork imports". That means that the Ma government considers the overall benefits of Taiwan joining the TPP, outweighs any impact on the pork industry. We can use "country of origin" labeling as a way to remind people to buy less US pork. Allowing imports is consistent with international trade principles. Using "country of origin" labels enables consumers to reduce demand for US pork imports, and support local pig farmers. Such a solution is eminently reasonable. But Ma government timidity, makes it difficult to implement. Another question is even more intriguing. Namely, how does the DPP intend to deal with this problem?
Tsai Ing-wen recently met with former US Vice President Dan Quayle. When parting, she said "I'm sure we'll be in power next year". Tsai Ing-wen's confidence is not unfounded. But suppose the Ma government fails to resolve this problem? Once the DPP becomes the ruling party, US pork imports will be its responsibility. When that happens, will Tsai Ing-wen have a better solution than the KMT? Probably not.
In fact, when Tsai Ing-wen visited the US last month, she arranged a secret visit to the US Trade Representative. The visit is rumoured to have been about allowing US pork and beef organ meat imports. Joseph Wu paved the way for Tsai Ing-wen's visit in advance. Tsai may have reached an understanding with the US on the matter. Tsai Ing-wen may have made all sorts of secret commitments to the US. Once in power, she would then agree to allow US pork imports, perhaps in exchange for US support for her cross-Strait policy.
Is Tsai Ing-wen putting on a show of opposing US pork imports, even as she accuses the KMT of ignoring the interests of Taiwan pig farmers? Will she change her tune next year once she is in power? Will she suddenly begin talking about "the greater good" and allow US pork imports? How does the public on Taiwan feel about that? If she repeatedly engages in deceit, how will she maintain the public trust?
In fact, US pork imports is merely an issue the public is familiar with. Given the current state of affairs, politically and economically, many choices must be made between the general interest and special interests. Many issues are unraveling, or await closer scrutiny before the problems become apparent. Amidst the "fog of war", the truth remains hidden. This is why Tsai Ing-wen must come clean on issues she has evaded or concealed. These include the abolition of the death penalty, low wages, inequities in economic restructuring, the STA, the MTA, and pension reform. Currently the Democratic Progressive Party is in the opposition. It bears no responsibility for administration policy. But that does not mean opposition parties can hide their positions. In particular, DPP obstructionism often means they do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. They care nothing about legitimacy or principles. If the Democratic Progressive Party returns to power yet again, people must know whether it has any answers. They must know whether it has any tricks up its sleeve.
The Ma government is afraid to mention US pork imports. That is its chronic weakness. But Tsai Ing-wen has her own calculations. If she is elected president, will she brazenly announce the beginning of US pork imports to Taiwan? If she does, would that not amount to brazen deceit? Many people are currently mocking everything President Ma does. They are hardly about to allow the Ma government to import US pork products. But if the decision to allow US pork imports falls to Tsai Ing-wen, and the public fails to make even a peep, would that not be democracy's greatest irony?
What is Tsai Ing-wen's position on joining the TPP? What is her position on US pork imports? Has she made any secret promises to the United States? Tsai Ing-wen, please tell the public where you stand on these matters, in plain language.