Taiwan on Saturday voted against reimposing a ban on US pork in a contentious referendum that tested trade ties with Washington as the government seeks to expand its international presence.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling party had campaigned against reinstating a block on all imports of pork containing ractopamine, an additive used by US farmers that enhances the growth of lean meat.
The substance is banned by the European Union, China and Russia. However, ractopamine is permitted for use in food producing animals in more than 20 countries, including Australia, US, Canada and Japan.
“Food safety concern is low compared to other beta agonists,” according to Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety. Beta agonists are growth promotants used in cattle and pig production.
The Taiwan referendum proposal failed to pass with more than 4.13 million people voting “no” against around 3.94 million in favour. It would have required nearly 4.96 million “yes” votes to reimpose the ban.
The result showed that “Taiwanese people hope to go out to the world and are willing to actively participate in the international community”, Tsai told reporters.
Local Farmers Angered
Her government lifted restrictions on ractopamine pork last year, angering local farmers in a move widely seen as a bid to make headway in trade talks with Washington.
The island’s political opposition seized on public unease about lifting the ban as restaurants started putting up signs declaring they would serve only local pork.
Taiwan has a tradition of holding referendums on controversial issues. This vote attracted large protests and at one fierce debate opposition lawmakers dumped a bucket of pig guts on the floor of Taiwan’s legislature in protest.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party had warned that a “yes” vote on the pork ban would hurt Taiwan’s trade ties with its key ally and jeopardise a bid to join a major trans-Pacific trade pact.
It comes as Taiwan tries to expand its presence on the international stage in the face of diplomatic isolation efforts by China.
- AFP, with George Russell