TAIPEI — Taiwan on Wednesday lifted a ban on imports of US beef containing a controversial additive, in a move likely to facilitate free trade talks with Washington.
The 113-seat parliament, controlled by the ruling Kuomintang party, agreed to amend a law that has barred imports of beef containing any residual ractopamine, a growth drug used in animal feed to promote lean meat.
The beef issue is emotionally charged in Taiwan, with concern about the prospect of importing tainted beef triggering large street protests and sit-ins in front of parliament.
While the public is mainly concerned about the health consequences, Taiwan's vocal and politically influential pig farmers are afraid it will be a first step towards opening the market to US pork containing the drug.
The new law tolerates beef imports containing some small residues of ractopamine, without specifying the acceptable level. Officials from the Department of Health said they will set a standard at a later date.
Observers say the passage of the bill may end a lingering, nearly six-year-long dispute between Taiwan and its second-largest trading partner after China. The ban was introduced in late 2006.
Taiwan's opposition, backed by rights and consumer groups, claimed that any residue of the growth drug may pose a public health hazard, a claim dismissed by the United States.
"The United States welcomes today's vote," the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy, said in a statement.
"We look forward to the quick implementation of the maximum residue level for ractopamine and the resumption of expanded access for US beef in the Taiwan market."
Taiwan, China and the European Union ban ractopamine because of possible human health risks, but 26 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil, have declared the product safe.
Washington had repeatedly urged Taipei to ease restrictions on US beef, indicating that the stalled trade talks between the two sides hinge on the issue.
Talks between Taipei and Washington on a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), often a precursor to a full-fledged Free Trade Agreement, have been dormant since 2007, due to the dispute.
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