Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has come under fire from the opposition camp for lifting a ban on United States beef and pork after breaking her promise to hold a public discussion before her government would take any action. In an announcement that caught many from the political and public sectors off guard, Tsai declared the easing of restrictions on US beef and pork from next year by allowing imports of pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness, and beef from cattle aged 30 months and older. “The decision is in line with the country’s overall interests and the goals of the nation’s strategic development. It’s also a decision that could boost Taiwan-US ties,” she said in a hastily called news conference on Friday. “If we can take one crucial step forward on the issue of US pork and beef, it will be an important start for Taiwan-US economic cooperation at all fronts,” she said. While it may take a while to reach a bilateral trade agreement or a free-trade pact with Washington, Tsai said she had a positive attitude on the issue. The US was an important trading partner for Taiwan, and the decision had nothing to do with the upcoming US presidential election, she stressed. Taiwan-US trade last year was worth US$85.5 billion, with the US running a US$23.1 billion deficit. Taiwan was the US’ 14th biggest export market in 2019. But the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, cried foul, accusing Tsai of backtracking from her long-standing position on the issue and being dictatorial in lifting the ban without consulting the legislature, the general public, and hog and cattle farmers . “Before she was elected president in 2016, she had strongly opposed the import of US beef and pork with ractopamine, but now she defies all opposing voices by simply issuing an administrative order to have the ban lifted, not even consulting the legislature and the public,” said KMT chairman Johnny Chiang. Chiang said Tsai’s order threatened the livelihood of Taiwan’s hog farmers and raised food safety concerns for the broader public. F-16 centre is a sign of US-Taiwan partnership coming into the light As a number of Taiwanese prefer pork rather than beef for meat, hog farmers are tipped to be the worst hit, given that the current price of imported pork without ractopamine is half the market price and those with the leanness additive will be even cheaper once imported. Several KMT-controlled local governments have declared they will defy the new order when the additive-enhanced meat is imported to Taiwan. “We will continue to adhere to the city’s existing food safety regulations once those meats are imported,” said Lu Shiow-yen, a KMT mayor of the central city of Taichung. Deputy Taipei mayor Huang Shan-shan said Taipei would also continue banning meat containing the leanness-enhancing drugs unless the Tsai government invalidated local regulations. Other KMT-controlled cities and counties also voiced their strong opposition to such imports. Tsai posted on Facebook over the weekend that the lifting of the ban could help Taiwan build international trust. Several high-ranking US government officials have already responded positively to the move, which Tsai said could facilitate US-Taiwan bilateral trade talks in the future. US Vice-President Mike Pence, National Security Council Adviser Robert O’Brien, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have praised Taiwan’s move to relax import rules on American pork and beef, with Pence saying the decision “opens the door for further economic cooperation and a stronger trade partnership” with Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, at least 74 leaders from US political, business and academic circles have commended Tsai’s new order. Taiwan’s popular health minister Chen Shih-chung said on Monday the public should be assured by the government’s food safety policy when the new order went into effect next year. He said the new measure would “help promote Taiwan’s international status” as the island sought to expand its international visibility. He also said regardless of previous statements, all policies must be timely to reflect what was most needed at the moment. “So, it is meaningless to always mention what has been said and done before.” Wang Chien-chuan, vice-president of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, said it was important for Taiwan to sign a bilateral or free-trade pact with the US, given the export-oriented economy of the self-ruled island. “If we can sign a bilateral trade agreement with the US, it will help our industries which rely on the US market greatly, like steel, petrochemicals, textiles and certain consumer products,” he said. But Yen Chen-shen, a senior researcher at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations, said opening up to beef and pork imports might not necessarily mean Taiwan could get a free-trade pact or bilateral trade agreement. “The US would pick on other trade barrier issues, such as what they view as an unreasonable local medicine price structure and farming subsidies, to force Taiwan to further open up its market,” Yen said.