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Taiwan curbs US beef imports in latest Asia trade frictions

Health concerns and angry protests have prompted partial bans on US beef imports in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea – most recently by Taipei on Tuesday. The recurring dispute has strained relations.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (c.) and government officials talk about the amendment of the safety law to ban US beef imports in Taipei on Tuesday.

Pichi Chuang/Reuters

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Taiwan's restriction of some United States beef imports Tuesday highlights an ongoing source of friction in US-Asian trade relations.

In recent years US beef imports have become a lightning rod in East Asia, due to a potent mix of health concerns, nationalism, and political opportunism.

Beef has become a measure of whether governments are viewed as standing up for citizens' health or buckling to US pressure, says Koji Murata, a political science professor at Japan's Doshisha University.

"For junior partners of the US such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, this issue is a kind of symbol –of course, an exaggerated one – of American oppression," he says.

The move by Taiwan's legislature comes amid fears of mad cow disease, and criticism that President Ma Ying-jeou's government failed to consult the legislature or the public before lifting a partial ban on US beef in October.

The issue has strained Taiwan's ties with the US, even as the self-ruled island moves ever closer into China's economic orbit with a series of cross-strait commercial deals.

Taiwan legislators reached a consensus last week to revise a food law to ban the import of US ground beef, offal, and other beef products seen as posing a greater health risk.

That drew unusually harsh criticism from Washington, which accuses Taiwan of overturning an October deal that was signed after extensive negotiations and study.

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