Taiwan closes door to some U.S. beef

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WASHINGTON — Despite a recent agreement to allow a full reopening of the Taiwan market to U.S. beef, Taiwanese lawmakers announced Jan. 5 that additional restrictions would be placed on U.S. beef imports, due to alleged safety concerns.

Both the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the USDA expressed disappointment at the move, saying Taiwan’s amendment to its Food Sanitation Act does not have “a basis in science and constitutes a unilateral violation of a bilateral agreement concluded in good faith by the United States with Taiwan a little over two months ago.”

According to USDA’s Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller, the beef protocol was negotiated on the basis of the guidelines laid out by the World Organization for Animal Health (the OIE), as well as the findings of Taiwan’s own risk assessment, which concluded that all U.S. beef and beef products are safe.

Political volley

“This is a purely domestic political issue in Taiwan,” said Gregg Doud, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association chief economist. “U.S. beef producers are sick and tired of being used as a political football.”

The cattlemen’s association is urging the Obama administration to explore every available option to rectify this situation as soon as possible.

The U.S. exported record sales to Taiwan over the last three years, with beef exports valued at: $101 million in 2006; $107 million in 2007; and $128 million in 2008.

Background

The United States has implemented a comprehensive set of measures, regulations, and practices that are science-based, consistent with the guidelines of the OIE for minimizing the risk posed by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

In June 2007, the United States requested that Taiwan provide market expansion for all U.S. beef and beef products consistent with the OIE classification of the United States as a controlled-risk country. Since then, the United States has worked closely with Taiwan to provide all information necessary for Taiwan to fully evaluate these measures.

Taiwan’s Department of Health’s final risk assessment, released in January 2009, determined that all U.S. beef and beef products are safe, and, after more than two years of negotiations and scientific and technical exchanges, the two countries concluded an agreement on expanded market access for U.S. beef and beef products.

Under the terms of the protocol, all tissues that are scientifically recognized as posing a risk of BSE, known as specified risk materials (SRMs), must be removed, and no specified risk materials or beef containing specified risk materials will be eligible for export to Taiwan.

These tissues are tonsils and distal ileum from cattle of all ages and also the brain, eyes, spinal cord, skull, dorsal root ganglia, and vertebral column from cattle 30 months of age and older.

Under the agreement, Taiwan said it would apply the same inspection procedures and border measures to U.S. beef imports that it applies to all imports from other countries.

While the protocol allows trade in beef and beef products from cattle of any age, provided that SRM tissues are removed, the U.S. beef exporting industry has committed to voluntarily limit beef exports to Taiwan during a transitional period to products beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age.

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