Voters’ rejection on pork issue helps U.S-Taiwan trade talks: scholars

Taiwan's Saturday referendum result that failed to overturn its decision to allow the import of pork containing ractopamine will help Taiwan-United States trade talks, though a full-scale free trade agreement (FTA) is still not in the near term, two American scholars told CNA.

"Today's result keeps the momentum going in U.S.-Taiwan relations and will certainly help along TIFA talks, said " Sean King, senior vice president of U.S. thinktank Park Strategies.

Both sides are still "a far way off" from negotiating a U.S.-Taiwan FTA, he said, but added the vote "does get us one step closer."

TIFA or the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement is a high-level framework between Taipei and Washington on trade negotiations.

Sharing similar views, former American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal told CNA that he hopes the result will finally "put the issue away" so that Taiwan and the U.S. can "get on to bigger things" for bilateral trade relations.

He said, however, a full-scale FTA "may be a bridge too far for the near term," adding that he was hoping Taipei and Washington can expand the referendum result via the TIFA framework.

The two scholars' comments were made after Taiwanese voters on Saturday narrowly rejected the four referendum questions put to them in a national vote that saw a relatively low turnout.

The four questions voted on included whether the long-mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei should be unsealed for commercial operations, and whether a ban on the import of pork containing traces of the controversial feed additive, ractopamine, should be reinstated.

The other two issues involved the fate of a liquefied natural gas terminal being built near algal reefs in Taoyuan, and whether future referendums should be held concurrently with national elections.

Of the four issues, the one on pork imports has been of particular interest to Washington because it has considered Taiwan's previous rejection of imports of U.S. pork containing ractopamine as an impediment to trade.

Taiwan has allowed U.S. pork imports for years as long as the meat did not contain any traces of ractopamine, which is banned for use in most countries of the world, including Taiwan, because of its potential risks to animals and humans.

Washington had blocked talks under the bilateral TIFA talks until Taiwan began allowing imports of pork with ractopamine on Jan. 1, and the referendum was aimed at overturning the government's decision.

Asked to comment on the referendum result, a U.S. State Department spokesperson did not respond directly, saying only that the U.S. hoped to continue to strengthen trade ties.

"We will continue to seek constructive engagement with Taiwan on issues that affect exports of U.S. food and agricultural products, as we do in all areas of our trade relationship," according to the unnamed spokesperson.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel