Ma secures twin legislative wins

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am


President Ma Ying-jeou's administration has legalised two controversial bills to lift a long-time ban on certain US beef products and enact capital gains tax on share investments.

Ma's victory in an extraordinary legislative session yesterday is expected to boost his political fortunes, as he faces questions over his handling of the two issues.

Ma's popularity rating has plummeted from a high of 70 per cent when he became president to 15 per cent recently.

Since becoming president in 2008, the ban on certain US beef imports has proved problematic for Ma's administration. The ban has angered the United States, Taiwan's largest trading partner.

Taiwanese farmers and activists staged protests when Ma's government proposed in March to lift the ban partially.

Ma's handling of the capital gains tax proposal also sparked strong opposition, even from his own Kuomintang party. The two bills were legalised after KMT lawmakers voted along party lines and defeated the opposition led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The DPP staged a walkout during the review of the capital gains tax bill.

'Amendments to the Food Safety Act were passed,' parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng announced after 63 KMT legislators voted for the bill, outnumbering the 46 veto votes from DPP lawmakers and the smaller Taiwan Solidarity Union.

KMT lawmaker Lin Kuo-cheng from Kaohsiung - seen as the traditional stronghold of the pro-independence camp in southern Taiwan - abstained due to strong pressure from his constituency.

Before the legislature closed its regular session on June 15, the opposition held up the legislative floor and occupied the podium for 120 hours to prevent the speaker from chairing the review meeting of the beef import issue.

The new law allows Taiwan to import US beef containing small traces of ractopamine, a feed additive the US permits to raise leaner meat.

However, food labels in Taiwan will have to state how much of the chemical that beef contains. Pork and beef innards containing the additive will remain banned.

The American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in the absence of formal ties, welcomed the bill's legal passage.

'We look forward to the quick implementation of a maximum residue level for ractopamine and a resumption of expanded access for US beef in the Taiwan market,' it said.

'We also look forward to resuming efforts to expand vital bilateral trade and investment ties that benefit us both.'

Ma has long hoped that Washington would resume talks on a trade framework agreement, believing it to be the first step for Taiwan to secure a free-trade pact with the United States.

Taiwan's parliament legalised the bill to impose capital gains tax on stock trading to raise tax revenue amid fiscal deficits and to narrow the widening wealth gap.

Former finance minister Christina Liu proposed the bill in late March. But it got little support as the island's stock market was then under persistent pressure.

The KMT later announced a plan with much milder tax criteria, including the imposition of the tax only when Taiwan's stock index tops 8,500 points.