The problem stems from politicians who are serving domestic constituencies. The danger is that the dispute could spill over and affect other aspects of the relationship
While officials now tell us that the feed additive ractopamine contained in some US beef does not pose a health risk, the longstanding controversy over its import into Taiwan could, if mishandled, poison relations between Taipei and Washington.
Fundamentally, the problem lies with special interest groups in Taiwan and the US. In Taiwan, those who oppose lifting the ban on US beef containing ractopamine residue have adopted a policy that seeks to protect the domestic meat industry. Protectionism is every bit as important as health considerations in this dispute — witness the legislators and activists who have made this issue their own, but have nothing to say about the proven nefarious effects of cigarettes, or motor vehicle pollution.
As for the US, its policy on the matter is alimented by a lobby that seeks to maximize the export of meat products. It is also an election year, which tends to make policymakers more receptive to such pressures.
Although the beef controversy should be treated as an isolated trade spat between two countries, there has been a tendency on both sides to politicize the matter by tying it to other elements of the relationship. As a result, if the situation is not handled with political deftness, it could damage relations between Taipei and its most important ally.
My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.