Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan failed to vote on the so-called beef amendments before its formal recess on June 15. President Ma Ying-jeou supports starting an emergency legislative session in late July, but said that he will not consider the use of an executive order to force the opening of Taiwan to US beef imports.
According to the Taipei-based China Post, Premier Sean Chen told reporters on June 16 that an executive order is a legal option, but that revising the law through the Legislature is the safest way to resolve the impasse.
For months, President Ma has actively lobbied legislators to pass amendments to the law governing food sanitation that would open Taiwan’s borders to US beef containing ractopamine. The amendments have faced vigorous opposition from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and other minor parties, who in the week before the legislative recess managed to prevent a plenary vote on the amendments. Of the 113-seat Legislature, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) holds 64 seats, and the DPP has 40 seats.
One day before the Legislature began its summer recess the long-stalled beef amendment remained stuck, as the DPP continued its boycott and the KMT failed to come up with effective measures to drive the DPP legislators away from the podium.
In a Taiwan-styled filibuster, DPP legislators slept in sleeping bags in the legislative hall for four nights, protecting the roped-off podium entrances and the wire-wrapped seat of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng. KMT legislators finally decided that they would not force their way into the podium area, the China Post reported.
According to the United Daily News, on June 20, a number of KMT Central Standing Committee members proposed that President Ma use an administrative order to allow the imports of US beef to Taiwan. However, he demurred, expressing his respect for legislative resolutions reached by the ruling party in consultation with opposition parties and said that the executive order will not be used.
President Ma hopes that the Legislative Yuan will deal with the US beef case soon so as to resume the important Taiwan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) negotiations. The TIFA is a platform for dialogue between the two sides, to be able to create favorable conditions for a free trade agreement (FTA), so as to cut short the schedule of the Taiwan-US FTA negotiations. Taipei and Washington started the TIFA negotiations in 1992, but talks stalled in 2007 due to the US beef issue.
The United Daily News asked in an editorial, what is the real purpose of the DPP launching such battle to boycott US beef imports? If it is for the sake of pig farmers, hasn’t President Ma’s government made a policy of separating the US beef case from the importation of pigs?, they asked. If it is for the sake of national health, isn’t President Ma trying to achieve the same results by adopting the same strict control standards set in Japan and South Korea? And, if it is for the sake of Taiwan, then aren’t the issues of Taiwan’s trade and economic development as urgent as the issue surrounding ractopamine in US beef?
The Taipei-based China Times commented in an editorial that the United States has clearly stipulated that the opening of US beef imports is a precondition for continuing the TIFA negotiations, which can lead to talks about FTAs and a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Most Taiwanese people are in support of signing FTAs with other countries. An FTA has never been something where one side has benefitted exclusively without making some concessions to the other side. Negotiations between countries are about an exchange of interests, one of give and take. Why not let Taiwanese consumers make their own choice, just like allowing smokers to decide whether or not to take a risk by lighting up?
According to the Commercial Times, the survival of Taiwan’s economy and trade at stake, it is no longer an issue of “whether” Taiwan opens its border to US beef or not, but “how” to open it. The DPP group wants a “zero detection” level on US beef containing ractopamine, by adopting the “European Union model” to raise the level of Taiwan’s economic and trade position to that of the European Union, although Japan and South Korea, both of which have adopted strong protection measures for domestic agriculture, did not follow the EU model. However, it is wishful thinking for Taiwan to request an economic and trade status based on the EU model.
For an article in the Taipei Times, Tung Chen-yuan, a professor at National Chengchi University wrote, “Will the US really be more willing to sign an FTA with Taiwan if the ractopamine ban is relaxed? Washington has never said so. It has just reiterated that it would be prepared to resume talks on a TIFA. A TIFA would of course be a prerequisite for a US-Taiwan FTA, but the problem is whether Taiwan will ever be in a position to secure an FTA with the US. Given that the public has serious concerns about the health implications of ractopamine, it is important to know whether, if this compromise were made now, would there be a reasonable chance of getting an FTA further down the road?”