Taiwan announced this week 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 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 position, Gregg Doud, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) chief economist, said, "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 that there are any safety concerns related to U.S. beef is outrageous." He went 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, called the action taken by Taiwan's legislature very disappointing and said 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; the U.S. also has a 40% market share for imported beef into the country. While the latest Taiwan move won't stop trade, it will hinder continued growth. More importantly, it continues to generate damage to consumers' perception of our product.
Certainly, the U.S. industry deserves some blame by not keeping up with the changing standards for global trade, but given the leverage the U.S. has over Taiwan economically, and from a national security standpoint, it's amazing that we seem unable to make them abide by scientifically sound trade protocols.