The passage of a referendum seeking to ban pork imports containing ractopomine, which largely come from the United States, could undermine Taiwan's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as it could be interpreted as a lack of determination to embrace free trade, President Tsai Ing-wen (???) said Tuesday.
"This is the most important display of willpower (for Taiwan), in which a country's determination is examined," Tsai said during a Podcast program as she detailed the government's opposition to a referendum slated for Dec. 18.
The referendum asks the question: "Do you agree that the government should prohibit imports of pork, offal or other related products that contain the ß-agonist, ractopamine?"
While the question does not connect ractopomine pork with U.S. pork, Tsai urged the public to vote "No" in the referendum, suggesting that whether Taiwan allows such imports from the U.S. will be scrutinized by the world as it weighs the country's willingness to open its markets.
All the CPTPP's 11 signatory countries have approved the import of such products from the U.S., and they will be checking if Taiwan is prepared to clear difficult hurdles to comply with global high-standards in free trade, she said.
However, as of 2014 more than 160 countries banned the use of ractopamine, including the European Union, China and Russia.
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which initiated the referendum in an attempt to overturn the government's decision to lift the ban on pork imports containing ractopamine at the beginning of this year, has said such an argument is irrelevant as the U.S. is not a CPTPP member.
Domestically, Taiwan still bans the use of the drug, which is used to enable animals to grow larger and leaner, for both cattle and hogs.
Tsai said the long-stalled Trade and Investment Framework Agreement between Taiwan and the U.S. was able to resume thanks to the government's announcement that it would open up to U.S. pork products.
In addition, consequent trade talks have provided both sides with an ideal platform, she argued, through which other differences can be resolved, allowing Taiwan to narrow the gap with the U.S. on a range of issues.
Earlier Tuesday, KMT Legislator Lin Wei-chou (???) and Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung (???) continued to argue over the issue in separate radio program interviews.
Lin said he has difficulty believing that banning U.S. pork imports with ractopomine would severely hurt Taiwan-U.S. trade as such products account for only 20 percent of all U.S. pork imports.
No more than NT$1 billion (US$36 million) in trade value would be affected each year, which is relatively small compared with trade in weaponry or chips, according to Lin, who participated in a televised referendum forum with Chen on Nov. 13.
Chen said Tuesday that as Taiwan is heavily dependent on trade, the passage of the referendum would showcase the country's reluctance to comply with "international standards" and put it at a disadvantage in future free trade agreement negotiations with the U.S.
No country in the world has left food safety issues to a referendum, Chen said, arguing that the initiative is politically motivated.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel