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Taiwan bans U.S. beef imports on fears of mad cow disease

File photo shows protesters staging a rally against US beef ... Taiwan's parliament amended a food safety law on Tuesday to ban certain U.S. beef imports due to widespread fears of mad cow disease, testing trade ties with Washington, just over two months after opening the market.

The move abrogates an agreement signed by Taiwan and the United States in late October and hurts Taiwan's credibility as a trading partner, the U.S. de facto embassy in Taipei said.

Under the bill, given final approval in parliament on Tuesday, imports of ground beef and cow offal will not be allowed.

On October 22, Taiwan said it would reopen its markets to U.S. bone-in beef, such as T-bone steaks, as well as ground beef and offal, which includes parts such as cow brain.

Pressured by U.S. officials, Taiwan lifted the bans before it had gauged public opinion, analysts say. The move dealt President Ma Ying-jeou his biggest crisis since the widespread destruction caused by an August typhoon in which many thought authorities were slow to act.

A backlash from voter-conscious senior members of the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) led to an official apology followed by the bipartisan legislative bill.

"To protect the health of the people is a huge responsibility of ours," KMT caucus whip Lu Hsueh-chang told parliament after the vote. "There were hardly any opposition voices."

Taiwan first banned U.S. beef in December 2003, after the United States acknowledged its first case of mad cow disease. In 2006, Taiwan opened its markets to boneless U.S. beef from cattle aged 30 months or younger.

The most recent U.S. mad cow case occurred in March 2006. The caseload worldwide dropped from 37,000 in 1992 to fewer than 300 in 2006, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

The backlash in Taiwan since October has caused confusion for U.S. beef exporters in their sixth-largest market by value, worth $114 million as of the end of October.

The U.S. government "deeply regrets" the legislature's decision, the de facto embassy said in a statement, which also hints at weakened U.S. support for Taiwan's role in the World Trade Organization.

"This action also undermines Taiwan's credibility as a responsible trading partner and will make it more difficult for us to conclude future agreements to expand and strengthen bilateral trade and economic ties going forward," it said.

A meeting set for this month for trade and investment framework agreement talks has been postponed over the beef dispute, local media said.

Source: Reuters

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