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Law amendment will not abrogate beef agreement: President Ma

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that Taiwan's plan to amend a law to restrict U.S. beef imports will not result in an abrogation of a Taiwan-United States (U.S.) agreement signed in October, after the plan drew a strong negative reaction from Washington.

Most importantly, the proposed amendment, if passed, will not bar imports of bone-in beef, Ma explained in an informal gathering with the media. The amendment targets only ground beef and bovine offal, which account for only 2 percent of all beef products exported by the United States to Taiwan, he said. Ruling and opposition legislators reached consensus Dec. 29 to amend the Act Governing Food Sanitation to ban the import of beef products considered at risk of spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

The move came in the wake of two months of controversy since Taiwan signed a protocol with the U.S. to allow the entry of bone-in beef and other beef products that had previously been banned for BSE concerns.

Expressing deep concern and disappointment at the proposed amendment, U.S. Deputy Trade Representative, Demetrios Marantis, and Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, Jim Miller, released a joint statement warning that the bill, if passed, would constitute “a unilateral abrogation” of the bilateral protocol.

Marantis and Miller also urged Taiwan to consider the move's possible impact on the country's reputation as “a reliable trading partner and responsible member of the international community.”

Ma said the statement by the two U.S. officials shows that they understand the situation in Taiwan quite well. However, they may not understand that people in Taiwan are probably “more sensitive and apprehensive” about food safety than Americans, and that the administrative and legislative branches have to respect public opinion, Ma said.

He said the government will continue to communicate the issue with Washington through various means, including sending a delegation to the U.S., in the hope that the U.S. side can be made to understand that “scientific evidence and professional evaluations alone are insufficient to resolve the doubts held by the Taiwanese people.”

The president also said he hopes the U.S. government will limit any possible retaliation to economic and trade areas.

Taiwan's representative office in the U.S., the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the National Security Council are studying ways to mend relations with Washington, he said.

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