In 2007, trade talks between the United States and Taiwan broke down over the Asian nation's decision to ban imports of U.S. beef treated with the growth additive ractopamine, a drug that promotes the growth of leaner, "meatier" meat.
Ractopamine is also banned in the European Union and in China, but it is considered safe for human consumption under U.S. standards. Japan, South Korea and 100 other countries do allow the import of beef containing residues of the drug.
But on Wednesday, Taiwanese officials proposed a plan that would conditionally allow import of U.S. beef treated with ractopamine as long as it existed under a maximum residue level of under 10 parts per billion. Under their recommendations, all beef would need to be labeled with its country of origin and other health information. The ban on import or pork treated with ractopamine and internal organs from cattle would not be lifted under the recommendations, which would need to be approved by Taiwanese lawmakers. Taiwan currently allows import of beef not treated with the drug.
Taiwan's farmers reacted strongly to the proposal, showing up by the thousands on Thursday to pelt the country's legislative building with rotten eggs and pig excrement. According to the Associated Press, the farmers broke through a security barrier by were prevented from entering the Ministry of Agriculture by police forces.
The protestors also changed slogans decrying U.S. beef and dared Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou to say no to the idea.
Government officials were mixed on the proposal. A spokesperson for the Democratic Progressive Party reaffirmed the party's zero-tolerance position on ractopamine, but Economics Minister Shih Yen-hsiang warned trade negotiations with the U.S. could be dependent upon allowing beef imports.
Francisco Sanchez, an Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, cancelled his planned trip to Taiwan this week, which the Wall Street Journal cites as generating speculation that the U.S. is growing impatient with the issue.
"Taiwan is our 10th largest trade partner, but the beef issue has been a real stumbling block to making further progress," Christopher Kavanagh, spokesperson for the de-facto U.S. embassy in Taipei, told Voice of America. (The U.S. does not maintain official relations with Taiwan.) "And so we hope looking forward after Taiwan, if they do set a maximum residue level for beef, that we can continue to move forward on our trade agenda."
Taiwan is hoping to establish a free-trade with the agreement, and is also seeking endorsement from the U.S. for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between nations in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Wall Street Journal.