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Politics

Taiwan public has bone to pick with Tsai over easing US meat ban

Food safety concerns linger as island eyes trade deal with Washington

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen attends an inauguration ceremony of a maintenance center for F-16 fighter jets, in Taichung on Aug. 28.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- President Tsai Ing-wen's public support has taken a hit after she pushed to lift Taiwan's ban on imports of U.S. pork containing a growth-promoting additive.

Tsai's approval rating tumbled to 58.8%, its lowest this year, in a poll published Sept. 28 by My Formosa, a news site leaning toward the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party. The figure has fallen steeply from 70.3% in April, when the president took swift measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

TVBS, a cable news channel close to opposition party Kuomintang, pegged her support at 48% in a poll released Sept. 3, down from a year-to-date high of 61% in May.

Tsai won re-election by a landslide in January and began her second and final term in May. The president earned a thumbs-up from the public by preventing a major surge in coronavirus infections on the self-governed island and getting the economy onto a recovery track.

Tsai also gained support as she sternly rejected China's "one country, two systems" model and pursued stronger ties with Washington. She successfully hosted Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in mid-August, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since diplomatic ties between the two sides were severed in 1979.

She began to pave the way for a free trade agreement with the U.S., contending it was essential if Taiwan wanted to cease its economic dependency on China and fight Beijing's unification pressure.

Tsai tackled the biggest barrier to a trade pact with Washington, announcing at an emergency news conference Aug. 28 that restrictions on imports of U.S. beef and pork essentially would end in January.

But this sparked an uproar in Taiwan, which has deeply opposed American beef and pork imports since around 2006, citing food safety and protection of domestic farmers. The island had banned any U.S. pig meat containing the additive ractopamine.

The Tsai administration overcame such objections by concluding that no problem existed with U.S. pork based on international food standards known as the Codex Alimentarius.

With the coronavirus pandemic lingering, the Taiwanese public remains sensitive about food safety as a health issue, said Tso Yi-en of Soochow University in Taipei, who warned the Tsai's approval ratings could drop further if the issue were not addressed carefully by January.

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