Taiwan curbs US beef imports in latest Asia trade frictions
Health concerns and angry protests have prompted partial bans on US beef imports in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea – most recently by Taipei on Tuesday. The recurring dispute has strained relations.
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In recent years US beef imports have become a lightning rod in East Asia, due to a potent mix of health concerns, nationalism, and political opportunism.
Beef has become a measure of whether governments are viewed as standing up for citizens' health or buckling to US pressure, says Koji Murata, a political science professor at Japan's Doshisha University.
The move by Taiwan's legislature comes amid fears of mad cow disease, and criticism that President Ma Ying-jeou's government failed to consult the legislature or the public before lifting a partial ban on US beef in October.
The issue has strained Taiwan's ties with the US, even as the self-ruled island moves ever closer into China's economic orbit with a series of cross-strait commercial deals.
Taiwan legislators reached a consensus last week to revise a food law to ban the import of US ground beef, offal, and other beef products seen as posing a greater health risk.
That drew unusually harsh criticism from Washington, which accuses Taiwan of overturning an October deal that was signed after extensive negotiations and study.
"Science and facts – not politics or hyperbole – should govern our trade and economic relations," US trade and agriculture officials said in a statement. "This is a serious matter that concerns us greatly."
Japan banned US beef imports in late 2003, after a single cow in the state of Washington was found to have mad cow disease. South Korea, Taiwan, and other Asian countries quickly followed suit. US beef exports plunged, hit especially hard by the ban in the No. 1 export market, Japan.
Japan reopened to some US beef imports in 2006, but restrictions remain.
South Korea's reopening to beef in 2008 under a US-friendly president sparked weeks of massive protests and a political crisis that had a nationalist, anti-American edge. Seoul ended up watering down a previous agreement with Washington, much as Taipei is doing now.