When Taiwan is completely sure that U.S. beef is safe for consumption, it will re-open its markets to imports, Taiwan's economics minister said yesterday.
Ho Mei-yueh (何美玥) made the remarks on the sideline of the sixth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization, which is being held at the Hong Kong Convention Center December 13-18, after Japan announced it would lift its ban against the import of U.S. beef a few days ago.
Ho said it is only a technical problem to re-open Taiwan to U.S. beef, noting that the Department of Health will use an open and transparent procedure for testing and examining to ensure that beef from the United States is absolutely safe, and that no new cases of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, have appeared in the U.S. since its second case of the disease in June.
Japan re-opened its market for the import after ensuring the safety of U.S. beef following strict tests and examinations, Ho said, adding Taiwan is conducting similar tests. Japan was the world's largest market for U.S. beef, which was closed in 2003 after the U.S. discovered a single case of mad cow disease.
After negotiations lasting two years, Japan decided on December 12 to resume imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged under 20 months.
Taiwan, listed as the world's sixth-largest U.S. beef market, banned imports of U.S. beef, live cattle and all related products in December, 2003 after the discovery in Washington State of a single case of mad cow disease. In April this year, it lifted the ban on U.S. boneless beef from animals under 30 months of age, but again suspended U.S. beef imports on June 25 after a second case of mad cow disease was confirmed in the U.S. earlier the same month.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johannes, who is now in Hong Kong attending the WTO meeting, yesterday urged Taiwan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Singapore to follow Japan and lift their bans on U.S. beef as soon as possible.
Earlier Ho said that Taiwan is very willing to talk over trade and commerce issues with China on an equal footing under the framework of the WTO.
As opening markets is the prevailing trend in the international market, Taiwan hopes to hold trade and commerce talks with China, including the establishment of the direct "three links" across the Taiwan Strait as two equal WTO members, Ho said. But she noted that no consensus has been forged in this regard between the two sides.
Speaking at the ministerial meeting, Ho said that Taiwan supports flexible market openings in all sectors to best assist and benefit developing countries and she called for the gradual opening of global agricultural markets.
She also expressed the hope that what was discussed regarding the service sector in this round of meetings could serve as a starting point for future negotiations on the opening of service markets.