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Beef import takes precedent over other U.S.-Taiwan issues: MOFA

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The promotion of bilateral economic and trade talks between Taiwan and the United States will be hampered if the issue of a comprehensive opening of the Taiwan market to U.S. beef is not resolved, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday.

“The U.S. government told us that U.S. beef is the top priority among all U.S.-Taiwan issues,” said Peiyung Michael Hsu, deputy director-general of the MOFA’s Department of North American Affairs, at a regular press briefing.

“Unless the issue of a total opening up of the Taiwan market to U.S. beef is resolved, the promotion of some economic and trade issues would be affected,” he added.

Asked whether this had delayed the annual U.S.-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFA) talks that were scheduled to be held in Taipei this year, Hsu admitted that the U.S. beef issue is playing a key role.

The TIFA talks, to review several bilateral trade issues, were scheduled for the end of November but have been postponed to a yet unconfirmed date.

Hsu said the Taiwan government attaches great importance to a comprehensive opening of the market to U.S. beef,given the sensitivity of the issue, and especially after the recent food scare over melamine-tainted milk products imported from China. He noted that the National Security Council recently held a meeting to discuss how to deal with the beef issue.

Hsu said a comprehensive opening of the Taiwan market to U.S. beef will be possible, on condition that the product is determined to be safe.The Taiwan government will also have to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, communicate fully with the public and engage in public education on the issue before the green light could be given to U.S. beef imports, he added.

Asked whether there was a timetable to deal with the issue, MOFA spokesman Henry Chen said the foreign ministry cannot unilaterally make a decision because it is an multi-agency issue and requires input from all those involved.

Taiwan announced Jan. 25, 2006 a conditional lifting of its ban on U.S. beef imports and unveiled a set of standards aimed at protecting the health of the country’s beef consumers.

The rules specify that only boneless meat from cows under 30 months are be allowed to be imported, while parts that carry a high risk of containing the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease, such as brains, spinal material, and certain bones, are banned.

Taiwan imports 20 percent of its beef from the U.S., with the state of Texas being the leading producer of U.S. beef.

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