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Pork issue more complex than beef: Su

TAIPEI--The issue of U.S. pork imports is more complicated and challenging than the beef one, opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang said Saturday, advising the authorities to handle the issue prudently.

The government has assured the people again and again that it will handle the two issues separately, Su said while answering reporters' questions about American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt's call the previous day for Taiwan not to treat U.S. pork imports differently from its beef imports.

If the pork import becomes an issue, President Ma Ying-jeou's promise will be strongly questioned, he said.

Pork is very popular in Taiwan and there are many hog farms in the country, he added, warning that the pork issue is “much more complicated and challenging” than beef imports.

In response, Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji stressed that the government won't open its doors to imports of pork containing residue of ractopamine, a leanness enhancing drug, nor will it agree to have the issue put on the agenda of upcoming trade talks between Taiwan and the United States next month.

The governnment's principle on the issue remains “separate permits for importing beef and pork,” which it set last year when it opened the market for ractopamine-containing U.S. beef imports, Chen said.

Meanwhile that day, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang said Taiwan respects the U.S.'s opinions during discussions between the two sides about what issues will be put on the agenda of the planned talks under the Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which will resume by the end of March.

Shih was responding to reporters' questions about whether the pork issue will be brought up in the TIFA talks, but said only that the two sides have their own issues of concern.

Taiwan cares about agreements on bilateral investment, free trade and industrial cooperation, as well as its bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade group made up of Pacific-rim countries, Shih said.

“We respect them. We don't know yet what they will do,” he said, adding that staff of the two sides are in close contact.

TIFA is the core mechanism under which the two countries can discuss trade and investment issues and explore new avenues for bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

In his meeting with the media in Taipei Friday, Burghardt, the top U.S. liaison officer with Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties, said U.S. pork producers will not export pork containing ractopamine residue to Taiwan as long as Taiwan prohibits such products.

But “we have the permanent position” that food policy and regulations should follow international standards and scientific rules, he said.

The safety standards used to set maximum residue levels for ractopamine, adopted last year by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standards setting body, “are not specifically about beef,” he noted.

The remarks triggered concern that the U.S. might want to bring the pork issue onto the agenda of the long-awaited TIFA talks, which have been suspended since July 2007 due to controversy over beef imports.

Taiwan opened its doors last year to imports of U.S. beef containing ractopamine residue, a measure regarded as a key factor in the resumption of TIFA talks.

In terms of pork imports, Taiwan maintains a strict ban on any traces of muscle-growth drugs.

Burghard is scheduled to leave Taiwan Saturday after a five-day tour here.

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