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End to beef row vital to FTA with US: Stanton

Taiwan must undertake serious reform efforts, including solving the U.S. beef issue, to significantly ease trade barriers if it wants to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with Washington and stay competitive in the global market, the outgoing de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan said yesterday.

In his last speech at an American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) luncheon as the director of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Taipei Office, William Stanton said he knew that Taiwan has expressed the desire to sign an FTA with the U.S. and ultimately join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The AIT head said, however, Taiwan has to be more open to U.S. products and to engage in further trade liberalization first if it wants to accomplish these tasks.

"Taiwan must undertake a serious reform effort to make its economy more open in order to stay competitive in a fast-changing world market," Stanton said.

He specifically pointed out that the U.S. beef issue has become a symbolic embodiment of Taiwan's protected market.

He noted that ractopamine is a food additive commonly and safely used in the U.S. and in many countries around the world.

"Unfortunately, critics (in Taiwan) quickly seized the issue and misrepresented the facts ... (misinforming the) Taiwanese people on the safety of U.S. beef ... for pure political gain," he added.

Beef has now become a hostage in domestic political battles in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, which could affect Taiwan-U.S. relations and Taiwan's relations with the rest of the trading world, he noted.

To solve the issue, Taiwan requires strong political leadership, the AIT head said, adding that he is encouraged to learn that President Ma Ying-jeou has recognized the importance of solving the issue by pushing the establishment of a safe residue standard of ractopamine in U.S. beef.

Resolving the beef row will provide Taiwan a chance to show its commitment to free trade based global cooperation, especially with the U.S. in possibly signing an FTA, he added.

Beef Controversy is a 'Fake Issue': Ma

Commenting on the beef issue yesterday at the ruling Kuomintang's Central Standing Committee, Ma said the argument against U.S. beef imports is a "fake issue" and has become an obstacle for too long already and has prevented Taiwan from moving forward on the global stage. Without expanding trade capabilities, Taiwan risks becoming a laughing stock throughout the international community, the president said.

Ma urged legislators across party lines to work in the interests of the nation to solve the controversy at an extra legislative session to be held next month.

US Concerns on Taiwan's Decreasing Defense Budget

Meanwhile, Stanton yesterday also expressed concern over the Taiwan's decreasing defense budget that could jeopardize its military's plan to transform into a completely voluntary force.

Taiwan must demonstrate its commitment to self-defense by increasing its defense budget so that it can manage cross-strait relations with confidence and contribute to regional stability, he added.

The outgoing AIT head is expected to end his three-year tenure in Taipei next month as he will be succeeded by Christopher Marut.

During yesterday's address, Stanton said his work in the AIT Taipei was "a wonderful final act" to his 34 years as a U.S. diplomat since he will be retiring from the U.S. diplomatic corps soon.

The AIT chief said he has made significant progress in further boosting Taiwan-U.S. relations during his time in Taipei, including having two deputy secretary-level senior U.S. officials visit Taiwan.

As an AIT director, Stanton said he was able to meet thousands of Taiwanese people, which has allowed him to deeply appreciate his tenure here and hoped he could stay longer in Taiwan after his impending retirement.

"I put my whole heart and soul into it (my time in Taiwan) and I know I have done my best," he noted.

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