The beef war is over with no winners
By Joe Hung, Special to The China PostThe beef war is over. And nobody is the winner.
November 2, 2009, 10:32 am TWN
It started when a protocol consisting of bovine spongiform encephalopathy-related measures for the importation of beef and beef products for human consumption from the territory of the nation represented by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) was signed on October 22.
Let's forget about the mind-boggling official mumbo-jumbo that describes the protocol. Simply put, it's an agreement or arrangement for Taiwan to buy beef and offal from the United States that has a very small probability of causing fatal mad cow disease.
Democratic Progressive Party leaders were all up in arms against the pact, which the Kuomintang administration most likely concluded with the United States in order to resume talks on a trade and investment framework agreement, which is better known in its abbreviated form of TIFA. Like the economic cooperation framework agreement, or ECFA, which Taipei plans to sign with Beijing, the sooner the better, as the TIFA is urgently needed to further improve trade between Taiwan and the United States. In fact, the ECFA should definitely be signed before what is known as the Ten-plus-One free trade zone in Asia comes into being on January 1 next year, the Ten being the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the One the People's Republic.
Both the TIFA and ECFA are open-ended agreements, without which Taiwan will have a very difficult time surviving the tough economic globalization. Of course, some economists believe the further trade liberalization that would be mandated by the two pacts may adversely affect Taiwan's economy. But almost all respected economists estimate that Taiwan would gain more than it would lose when trade and investment are made more liberal.
Many Kuomintang lawmakers have joined their colleagues in trying to take the administration to task for failing to maintain the ban on risky beef and beef products from getting to the Taiwan market from the United States. Together, these lawmakers crossed the party lines in the legislature to whine in chorus, equating the October 22 agreement with the many unequal treaties that the Qing Empire was compelled to sign literally at gunpoint after the Opium War of 1839.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin took the initiative to organize a boycott of all risky American beef, including ground beef and bone-in beef, and such offal as small intestine, tonsils, brain, skull, eyes, spinal cords, vertebral columns, and ganglia. Many mayors and county magistrates soon followed suit, while consumer advocates preached on the very high risks, which William Stanton, director of the AIT in Taipei, brushed aside as one in a billion. The risk is much, much lower than a cyclist getting hit in a fatal accident in Taipei, according to the top American diplomat in Taiwan. It is certainly true.
Administration officials have also vouchsafed the safety of American beef and beef products. Chen Wu-hsiung, chairman of the Council of Agriculture, volunteered to eat whatever is considered risky. Yaung Chih-liang, minister of health, promised an embargo of risky products that are not duly inspected. Even with the protocol in force, he pointed out, Taiwan would be able to ban the importation of any such products if legitimate fear exists about the spread of the deadly disease.