Friday, March 16, 2012

Beef must not poison other issues

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.

8 comments:

Taiwan Echo said...

"Protectionism is every bit as important as health considerations in this dispute"

I personally have no problem with the protectionism. A government is there to serve their own citizens, not to serve citizens of other countries.

The USA itself has no ground to argue against protectionism, either. They do it themselves when they see fit (in cases like “dolphin-safe” tuna labels, Country of Origin Labling, ban on clove, candy and cola flavored cigarettes, and the steel tariff dispute). They uphold the so-called "free-trade" only when it serves their interests.

"Holding TIFA talks hostage until the beef issue is resolved comes close to blackmail, which is not conducive to friendly relations. It is, however, very close to how Beijing approaches negotiations with Taipei."

You are very kind to use the term "close to", man. What I see it is: it is EXACTLY the same way China treats Taiwan --- forcing Taiwan to fold by threatening future development between two sides. I just did't see any difference.

The behaviors of some AIT officials are exceptionally stupid. Whatever food situation in Taiwan has been there for a long time. How Ma Ying-jeou works (that is, make promises in a rush and then break it) is well-known. How Taiwanese people will react to Ma Ying-jeou's under-the-table deal is expected, too. All these happened before, and the AIT even had a taste of that themselves back in 2009. With all these known factors, the AIT charges in like they didn't know any of these beforehand. It's like landing on a new planet without taking it's air composition into account, and then complain why the planet suffocate their explorers. It's AIT's incompetence that pushed this issue to the point of no return. With that, it's really hard for people in Taiwan not to categorize them as imperialism.

"In Taiwan, there is an underlying anti--Americanism to the opposition to US beef imports and some of the protesters who took to the streets in protest — including Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators — do little to hide their feelings."

Thanks for singling out the DPP's involvement. I wonder: why people always do this? First the AIT , then the other Michael, and now you --- what's going on? Is there some sort of agreement among English circle to pin the blame on the DPP ?

The truth is: the DPP, the TSU, the PFP, some of the KMT, as well as more than 15 civil groups, all are among the protestants. Some of KMT legislators express their strong opposition against Ma Ying-jeou's plan. It is a movement lit up all over the country by all sort of people. The civil groups are the strongest protestants. They organized and led the entire street protest. The DPP only showed up to support.

The DPP is a Taiwan party, not a foreign one. When a foreign power charges against Taiwanese people, the choice for the DPP couldn't be simpler. In fact, the DPP is criticized by many people as "too weak" on their anti-US-beef approach.

So, why the DPP is always the only one mentioned in English media ? Why can't the English media simply says that all parties and non-partisan groups are in it, which happens to be the truth ? By singling out the DPP, the English media is transmitting the wrong message and putting the DPP in the radar wrongfully.


Note: overall, this article is a pretty fair one. I just have to point out the part that you mentioned the DPP, 'cos it seems to become a trend. Other than that, great article.

Michael Fagan said...

"Fundamentally, the problem lies with special interest groups in Taiwan and the US."

The existence of special interest groups is not "fundamental" to the origin of the problem but it is what lies directly behind the transparent hypocrisy on food safety. My choice of word for that same sentence would not have been "fundamentally", but "obviously".

The "fundamental" origin of the problem is the common and erroneous belief that certain goods and services (e.g. food safety certification) can only be produced by force. The common acceptance of this error happens to be convenient for those who crave political power and also for those who want to be relieved of the pressure of competition. To remain true to freedom, neither set of people should enjoy the luxury of having their treasonous stupidity indulged. Call them out.

"I just have to point out the part that you mentioned the DPP, 'cos it seems to become a trend."

Does it hurt?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Thanks to both for the comments. Apologies for the late reply; I was away for three days, while back in the office tonight, my computer was overtaken by a series of malware alerts and had to be taken away.

I personally have no problem with the protectionism. A government is there to serve their own citizens, not to serve citizens of other countries.

Yes and no. Taiwan is also a WTO member.

Thanks for singling out the DPP's involvement. I wonder: why people always do this? First the AIT , then the other Michael, and now you --- what's going on? Is there some sort of agreement among English circle to pin the blame on the DPP ?

I am unaware of any such agreement. While I fully agree with you that the underlying anti-US sentiment does not apply only to the DPP, in the present crisis (beef), it's the DPP that has taken the lead. Even the darling of the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, was present at one of the rallies.

Taiwan Echo said...

"Yes and no. Taiwan is also a WTO member."

Several points to share :

1. WTO does provide some degree of protectionism in issues like public safety. I am not sure if Taiwan/beef issue is applicable, though. Whatever it is, WTO doesn't promote 100% free-trade;

2. Like I mentioned above, the USA, a member of WTO, doesn't give a damn about WTO's ruling when the ruling is against USA;

3. Whatever Taiwan do so far is NOT violating the WTO rulings. The Europe applies zero-tolerance of Ractopamine, too, which is allowed by the WTO.

"I am unaware of any such agreement."

Sorry for the sarcasm. I didn't really mean there's one.

" it's the DPP that has taken the lead. Even the darling of the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, was present at one of the rallies."

This is simply not true. I've said above that it's the civil groups (to be exact, the TAABA 反美牛聯盟) leading the entire protest. In the Legislative Yuan, it's the TSU leading the charge. I am surprised that you would interpret "showing up in a rally" as "taking the lead." Do all the people showing up in an rally are taking the lead ?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Sorry for the sarcasm. I didn't really mean there's one.

I know. I was being sarcastic, too.

This is simply not true. I've said above that it's the civil groups (to be exact, the TAABA 反美牛聯盟) leading the entire protest. In the Legislative Yuan, it's the TSU leading the charge. I am surprised that you would interpret "showing up in a rally" as "taking the lead." Do all the people showing up in an rally are taking the lead ?

Point taken. That said, for someone of Bi-khim's stature to participate in a mass rally does send certain signals, intentionally or not. Yes, she has a right, as a citizen, to do so. But she's also a politician, and her presence there could be interpreted the wrong way, This is exactly the kind of risk I tried to highlight in my editorial.

Taiwan Echo said...

Well ... there are many legislator showing up in the rally. That does show their support, but doesn't mean they lead.

Btw, may I ask why this article doesn't show up on your article list on the right, and the same unsigned editorial on TT doesn't show up in TT's editorial list, either ?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Ok, I take the "lead" back. But I'm sure some US officials won't be happy to learn people like HBK were at some of the rallies, where some placards carried indubitably anti-US messages.

I just looked on the TT Web site and the editorial is still there under "editorials" for March 16. Not sure what you mean by it now showing up. As for my Blog, only articles under my byline appear under "publications"; for my unsigned editorials, I put them under the "unsigned editorials" section, which appears underneath "books published." I do this simply because unsigned editorials are supposed to stand for the paper as a whole, and get a bit more editorial intervention, than my own pieces.

Taiwan Echo said...

You r right, Michael, I found it on the second page on the TT site. Thanks.

It's reasonable for the USA to be upset by HBK or any other Legislator. But, to stretch that into framing the DPP for something they didn't do, it'd be childish. Anyway.


Just for readers info, here's the website of TAABA, a non-partisan group leading the protest. In there you can find how they organize the protest and monitor the government progress.

According to their data, the other website says:

目前立法院有16個由各黨立委連署提出要求「瘦肉精零檢出」的《食品衛生管理法》修法版本,如果用曾經在這些草案版本提案,或者參與連署的人數來算,差不多已經佔了立法委員人數的七成以上
Currently there are 16 resolution drafts asking for zero-Rapotamine in the Legislative Yuan. Counting those who initiated and those who endosed, about 70% of the legislators are for the zero-Rapotamine.

and

支持「零檢出」法案的委員在上上週就已經過半,而且有愈來愈多的趨勢,扣除雖然表態,但立場仍待觀察的委員不算,國民黨內也有黃昭順、鄭汝芬、張嘉郡等立場十分堅持的人,大約10人左右
The number of legislators supporting "zero-Ractopamine" was over half already last week, and keep going up. Even in the KMT, there were 黃昭順、鄭汝芬、張嘉郡 etc, about 10, are very firm supporters.