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Ma to join KMT meeting over US beef

President Ma Ying-jeou, in an apparent effort to step up pressure on Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers to lift the ban on U.S. beef imports, is scheduled to join the KMT caucus meeting later in the week.

A party spokesman, Yin Wei, confirmed yesterday that the head of state will attend the legislators' meeting as chairman of the ruling party to discuss the U.S. beef issue.

The Legislature is scheduled to vote on a food health bill on June 12, with the beef issue as one of the main focuses.

Ma will be attending the KMT caucus meeting on Wednesday to make sure that the beef bill will pass, observers said.

But the KMT side has yet to consolidate its support. Many KMT lawmakers have voiced strong opposition to the administration's bid to open Taiwan's doors to ractopamine-enhanced U.S. beef.

Lin Hung-chi, head of the KMT's Central Policy Committee, said it is only natural for the KMT chairman to discuss such an important policy, i.e. the one concerning U.S. beef imports, with his party's lawmakers.

Asked if the KMT will take disciplinary actions against mavericks who do not support the beef policy, Lin said it is up to the KMT's legislative caucus to decide.

Ma showed his eagerness to settle the beef row in a recent interview with Reuters. He said that the beef dispute has been standing in the way of Taiwan's trade talks with the United States.

The president also said that he hopes the controversy can be solved in order to improve U.S.-Taiwan trade relations without impacting local food safety.

Taiwan currently bans the use of ractopamine, and no meat imports containing the leanness-enhancing drug are allowed. The U.S. government has been pressuring Taiwan to lift the ban, but the general public has been showing strong resistance.

Former Vice President Annette Lu said if Ma cannot resist U.S. pressure, the Taiwan populace will enforce its right to boycott U.S. beef in an effort to protect their health.

Legislator Lin Shih-chia of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) criticized Ma for choosing to attend the KMT meeting in his capacity as party chairman.

Lin said Ma should instead give a state of the nation address at the Legislature at this critical moment.

Legislator Lee Tung-hao of the People First Party said Ma's move shows that the government is bent on passing the beef bill by the end of the current legislative session.

Legislator Ker Chien-ming of the Democratic Progressive Party cited some KMT mavericks as saying that Ma's pressure may not work.

The opposition camp is ready to launch a no-confidence vote against Premier Sean Chen on June 15 to show their discontent over the beef issue.

The TSU's Lin said his party has already prepared a proposal for holding a vote of no-confidence against the Cabinet, and will start seeking endorsements from legislators at the proper time.

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