The Obama administration says it is “deeply disappointed” with a decision by Taiwan’s legislative body to amend its laws to prohibit imports of some U.S. beef and beef products into the country.

The move came after months of efforts by the U.S. government to expand the market for such products following a ruling by another branch of the Taiwanese government — and the World Animal Health Organization — that the products are safe.

Taiwan agreed to allow full access to U.S. beef last October, but reversed that decision Tuesday (Jan. 5) with a vote by the Legislative Yuan to amend the Food Sanitation Act to ban U.S. ground beef and offal.

“As we noted in our statement on Dec. 29, the FSA amendment's provisions do not have a basis in science and constitute a unilateral violation of a bilateral agreement concluded in good faith by the United States with Taiwan a little over two months ago,” the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA said in a statement.

“The protocol was negotiated on the basis of the guidelines laid out by the World Organization for Animal Health (the OIE), as well as the findings of Taiwan’s own risk assessment, which concluded that all U.S. beef and beef products are safe. But the Taiwan legislature put that into question with its vote on Tuesday.”

U.S. members of Congress joined it with criticism of the Taiwanese legislative action.

“I am severely disappointed by Taiwan’s decision to impose restrictions on imports of certain U.S. beef products, effectively reversing the agreement on this matter reached between the governments of the United States and Taiwan last October,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

“Taiwan’s own risk assessment, as well as studies conducted by the World Animal Health Organization and others, has proven that U.S. beef is safe,” said Lincoln, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“I’m concerned that Taiwan’s legislature is banning imports of some U.S. beef and beef products,” said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley. “This ban is inconsistent with a beef trade protocol that the United States and Taiwan finished only two months ago. It calls into question Taiwan’s credibility as a reliable U.S. trading partner. And, it raises serious concerns regarding Taiwan’s commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization.

“This ban is scientifically unfounded and unnecessary. It never should have advanced.”

“The decision by Taiwan authorities to place domestic politics over science raises serious concerns,” said Jim Miller, undersecretary of agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.

“This action will also undermine Taiwan's credibility as a responsible trading partner and will make it more challenging for us to conclude future agreements to expand and strengthen bilateral trade and economic ties.

The United States has implemented a comprehensive set of measures, regulations, and practices that are science-based, consistent with the guidelines of the OIE for minimizing the risk posed by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which was discovered for the first time in the U.S. in a cow brought in from Canada several years ago.

“The OIE is recognized by the WTO as the relevant standard-setting body for regulations relating to animal health,” said Deputy United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis. “These measures allow us to assure consumers in the United States, Taiwan and elsewhere that U.S. beef and beef products are safe. Millions of American families enjoy these products every day.”

In June 2007, the United States requested that Taiwan provide market expansion for all U.S. beef and beef products consistent with the OIE classification of the United States as a controlled-risk country. Since then, the United States has worked closely with Taiwan to provide all information necessary for Taiwan to fully evaluate these measures in the preparation of the Department of Health's final risk assessment, released by the Department of Health in January 2009, which determined that all U.S. beef and beef products are safe. In the interests of science-based trade with Taiwan, the United States has provided research, data, scientific experts, technical assistance, and detailed information regarding U.S. risk mitigation measures, as well as facilitated two on-site visits to major U.S. exporting beef establishments for Taiwan experts, all of which have underscored the safety of the relevant U.S. beef and beef products.

After over two years of extensive negotiations and scientific and technical exchanges, we concluded an agreement, the "Protocol of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-Related Measures for the Importation of Beef and Beef Products for Human Consumption from the Territory of the Authorities Represented by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)," on expanded market access for U.S. beef and beef products. The Protocol is science-based, consistent with the OIE guidelines, the domestic legal obligations of both sides, as well as the findings of Taiwan's own risk assessment. The Protocol thus provides further assurances that U.S. beef and beef products to be exported to Taiwan - which are the same products that are consumed by Americans at home - are safe.

Taiwan announced that the protocol would enter into force on November 2, 2009.

Under the terms of the Protocol, all tissues that are scientifically recognized as posing a risk of BSE, known as specified risk materials (SRMs), must be removed, and no SRMs or beef containing SRMs will be eligible for export to Taiwan. These tissues are tonsils and distal ileum from cattle of all ages and also the brain, eyes, spinal cord, skull, dorsal root ganglia, and vertebral column from cattle 30 months of age and older. This list excludes the vertebrae of the tail, the transverse processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, and the wings of the sacrum.

The Protocol is designed to both ensure human health and provide a clear and predictable commercial environment. The protocol specifies the actions that will be taken in response to instances of non-compliance that constitute food safety hazards, as well as to those that are unrelated to food safety. Taiwan will apply the same inspection procedures and border measures to U.S. beef imports that it applies to all imports from other countries.

The Protocol establishes a consultation mechanism under which both sides will have the opportunity to request consultations as needed to address any issues that may arise in the implementation of the Protocol.

While the Protocol allows trade in beef and beef products from cattle of any age, provided that SRM tissues are removed, the U.S. beef exporting industry has committed to voluntarily limit beef exports to Taiwan during a transitional period to products beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age under a Quality Systems Assessment program verified by USDA.

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