Taiwan announced last month that it would reverse its position on the bilateral trade protocol it had just agreed to after two years of long and hard negotiations. The border won't be closed, but new and additional restrictions will make it far more difficult for the U.S. to access the market.
Sadly, as increasingly has been the case, this has nothing to do with science or legitimate safety concerns; it's just politics. In denouncing Taiwan's decision, Gregg Doud, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) chief economist, says, “In our view, the issues expressed by politicians in Taiwan have absolutely no basis in scientific fact and fly in the face of Taiwan's own risk assessment. To suggest there are any safety concerns related to U.S. beef is outrageous.”
Doud goes on to point out that “the agreement would have brought Taiwan into compliance with science-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines, and that U.S. beef producers are sick and tired of being used as a political football.”
Not surprisingly, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) joined NCBA in expressing its frustration and issued the following carefully worded statement:
“Taiwan's legislature passed an amendment to its food sanitation law that will ban the import of all ground beef and offals from the U.S., as well as any country that has had a BSE case, for a period of 10 years from that country's most recent case. The legislature also approved a resolution to restrict U.S. beef imports to products derived from cattle less than 30 months of age. While this resolution is nonbinding, Taiwan may implement changes to its import requirements that reflect the resolution's intent.”
Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO, calls the action taken by Taiwan's legislature very disappointing and says it has “no scientific basis whatsoever. Before expanding beef trade with the U.S. in October of last year, Taiwan's best scientists determined the safety of U.S. beef through a thorough and extensive risk assessment. That effort has now been largely cast aside, as this policy shows no regard for OIE guidelines or the controlled risk status held by both the U.S. and Taiwan with regard to BSE.”
Taiwan is our sixth-largest market with $128 million in sales in 2008, and the U.S. boasts a 40% share of its beef-import market. While Taiwanese backsliding won't stop trade, it will hinder continued growth. More importantly, it continues to generate damage to consumers' perception of U.S. product.
Certainly, the U.S. industry deserves some blame by not keeping up with the changing standards for global trade, but given the economic and national-security leverage the U.S. has over Taiwan, it's amazing the U.S. seems unable to make Taiwan abide by scientifically sound trade protocols.
Troy Marshall is a seedstock producer and contributing editor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly. Sign up for a free subscription at beefmagazine.com.