Where's the Pork? US, Taiwan Fight Over Additives

♠ Posted by Emmanuel at 3/19/2012 03:31:00 AM
I am generally sympathetic to American agricultural techniques that others are squeamish about, but not with heavy-handed US trade advocacy that gives such techniques a bad name. Today we have another case in point in Taiwan .For one reason or another, erstwhile allies of the United States in the Asia-Pacific have vociferously contested the United States' attempts to sell what they believe are meat products of suspect safety. Witness the mass protests in 2008 against imports of older US beef into South Korea that are, by virtue of age, more susceptible to mad cow disease. Lest you think these were fringe protests, they almost toppled Lee Myun-Bak as tens of thousands took to the streets.

Nowadays we have a similar phenomenon going on in Taiwan. This time, though, the protests concern US pressure for the removal of Taiwan's ban on growth-enhancing additives--especially for pork. Controversies over the US using this sort of stuff are hardly new, nor are US efforts to remove barriers to their acceptance. Recall that nearly since the inception of the WTO in 1995, American trade authorities have been at it alike with its epic stand against the EU over beef hormones.

Whereas the likes of the EU have been proven to have political economies ideal for resisting American pressure on agriculture, Taiwan is not for a number of reasons. While the US is duty-bound to protect the ROC against PRC incursions, there are several other considerations besides. Ever since the PRC gained recognition at the United Nations as "the real China" and assumed its seat in the security council in 1971, Taiwan has been stuck in a diplomatic no-man's land. In political matters, its quasi-state status has been something other countries have taken advantage of. In economic matters, Taiwan has largely missed the boat on the proliferation of trade deals in the Asia-Pacific. Not only is it not a state in the eyes of most in the region, but those who are sympathetic to it are nonetheless wary of signing trade deals with Taiwan lest they offend the increasingly powerful PRC.

As it so happens, the United States is taking advantage of its "ally" Taiwan's vulnerability on both these fronts concerning the use of growth-enhancing additives. Alike in South Korea, the US throwing its weight around in agricultural matters has provoked a popular backlash as dung-throwing masses have accosted police forces in mass rallies. All these are occurring against the backdrop of Taiwan supposedly wanting to join negotiations to enlarge the APEC-based Trans-Pacific Partnership. Remember that Taiwan is, after all, an APEC participant:
Thousands of pig farmers throwing dung in the streets of Taipei. Demonstrators marching on America’s informal embassy wearing Uncle Sam hats and leering cow masks. Opposition lawmakers chanting slogans and occupying the speaker’s podium in parliament, disrupting the opening session and delaying the prime minister’s inaugural speech. These are all episodes in a growing row over meat imports into Taiwan that is pitting America, the island’s most important ally, against the vast mass of public opinion—and forcing the government of the recently re-elected president, Ma Ying-jeou, to manoeuvre frantically between the two.

At issue are American exports to Taiwan of meat that contains ractopamine, a controversial growth compound fed to cattle and pigs and which is banned by Taiwan, the European Union and China. The Americans want Taiwan to lift its ban. They point out that 27 countries have found meat from animals fed with ractopamine to be safe for humans, and are asking Taiwan to set maximum residual levels for allowable amounts instead. America has made clear that unless this is done it will not agree to any new economic initiatives with the diplomatically isolated island, including bilateral tax and investment agreements. And it will not champion Taiwan’s membership of the American-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a nascent free-trade group.
The science of it is under scrutiny. While I am inclined to believe the US government's arguments about the practice's safety, many others beg to differ--including most Taiwanese:
Yet public opinion and Taiwanese meat producers vociferously support the ban. They claim that over 100 countries ban the drug (a claim the Americans contest). Toxicologists also argue that residual concentrations of the drug are five to ten times higher in offal, which is eaten by Asians but not often by Americans. 
Call it the guano of globalization. It bears repeating that Taiwan's diplomatic isolation is largely due to the US warming up to China all those years ago. But, instead of shoring up Taiwan's economic vulnerability, the US does this sort of thing despite the ractopamine ban likely being WTO-legal. Despite my reservations about the cause of these protests, all I can say for Taiwan is that with friends like these..