The 2nd pork debate

The CEC held the second round of debates on the four referendums last week. There will be one more round of official debates. I’m going to continue to focus on the pork referendum.

For the pork question, the pro- side was represented by Chao Shao-kang (趙少康, also spelled Jaw Shao-kang). This is an interesting choice, since Chao has a long history in Taiwan politics. Let me stop here to refresh your memory about Chao.

Chao Shao-kang burst on the scene in the 1980s, winning huge numbers of votes in his two Taipei City Council elections in 1981 and 1985 and then winning seats in the legislature easily in 1986 and 1989. He was nicknamed the “political golden boy” 政治金童 and the media covered him heavily. He was an unapologetic Chinese patriot and a cheerleader for the ROC, but he was also part of the “liberal KMT” that was in favor of opening up the political system to democratic reforms. In the early days of Lee Teng-hui’s presidency, Chao was sometimes an ally in the fights against the old KMT dinosaurs. However, Chao quickly changed sides, and spent the rest of his career fighting against Lee and the DPP. During the fight between Lee and Premier Hau Pei-tsun (roughly 1990-1993), Chao was one of the primary organizers of the New KMT Alliance, a legislative caucus supporting Hau. Chao then resigned his seat to enter Hau’s cabinet as Environmental Protection Council Chair. In December 1992, Taiwan fully elected the LY for the first time, and this marked Hau’s loss. Without the automatic majority of the eternal legislators, Hau no longer had enough support in the legislature to continue. He resigned as premier and was replaced by LTH’s protégé, Lien Chan. Chao, who could see the writing on the wall, stormed back into the legislature, winning a remarkable 215,000 votes in Taipei County. In August 1993, Chao led the New KMT Alliance to quit LTH’s KMT and form a purer party, the Chinese New Party. For the first year, the New Party talked a lot about ordinary people 小市民 and things like corruption, land prices, and income inequality. In 1994, Chao decided to run for Taipei City mayor, and his campaign changed Taiwanese politics. Chao’s candidacy split the KMT vote in Taipei, allowing Chen Shui-bian to sneak into office with only 43% of the vote, and CSB’s performance in office set the stage for his presidential run in 2000.  Chao also transformed the New Party. During the campaign, he stopped talking so much about ordinary people and started talking about his sacred quest to protect the ROC. LTH, he said, had a secret timetable for Taiwan independence. Chao successfully rallied his base of true ROC believers, but he also narrowed the party to that base. The New Party became increasingly identified with Mainlanders, and surveys showed that half of his voters were Mainlanders. Mainlanders made up about 13% of Taiwan’s electorate at the time, and the New Party got about 15% of the vote in the 1995 legislative and 1996 national assembly elections, but Chao had effectively capped their support at those numbers. After the 1994 election, Chao faded from the front line of electoral politics. When Ma Ying-jeou decided to preemptively sell off some KMT assets, Chao managed to buy a controlling interest in the China Broadcasting Company (CBC, 中廣). He then reinvented himself as a media figure. For the last decade or two, he has been the Taiwanese equivalent of Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. In the last year, he has made noise about rejoining the KMT, running for KMT chair, and running for president in 2024. He is also the person who started calling for the KMT to become the “fighting blue” force 戰鬥藍。

The point of this history is that Chao is not a very neutral figure. He is also not an expert on pork, food safety, or free trade. He is a very partisan and polarizing figure who has strong opinions on everything (almost all of which, coincidentally, involve the DPP being terrible). He’s a good choice if you want to whip up a fervor among people who are already on your side, but he might not be the best person to talk to neutral voters or those who want a calm discussion. Younger voters might not have strong feelings about him, but for anyone my age or older, Chao comes with some significant baggage. The KMT is sponsoring this referendum, so I assume they picked Chao. Again, it’s an interesting choice.

The anti- side was represented by Lee Chun 李淳, a public policy expert at the Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research (CIER). He is just about the polar opposite of Chao. He wasn’t boring or unpersuasive, but he also never seemed interested in making things about himself.

Here are the main points that each side made.

First Round, In favor of banning imports of ractopamine pork

  • First, he presented three complaints about the debate. It was unfair that he didn’t get the last word. It should go 1-2-2-1, not 1-2-1-2. Second, the CEC should have all three debates on the weekend when more people can watch. They are unfairly trying to depress turnout. Third, the government should provide funds for the pro- side to make its case. Unfair.
  • The government has several arguments against us. 1) Opposing racto-pork is opposing American pork. Opposing American pork is opposing America. 2) If we don’t allow racto-pork, Americans will be angry. 3) Americans eat racto-pork, so why shouldn’t Taiwanese? 4) If we don’t allow racto-pork, we won’t be able to enter CPTPP. These are all wrong.
  • Racto-pork is only a small part of pork imports. How can you equate this to be anti-American? I love the USA. I studied in the USA, I drive a Tesla, I love macadamia nuts, I have an iphone, I have a Costco membership. I love the USA, I’m just against racto-pork.
  • The USA should be angry against the DPP for not allowing students, soldiers, and athletes to eat American pork. They are only allowed to eat Taiwan pork. Why? If it’s safe, you should let them eat it. Last year we imported 16m tons of American pork; this year it’s only 0.4m tons. This policy of not labeling ractopamine pork is hurting the USA.
  • You should tune into my program next week to hear my interview with an AIT representative talking about importing American agricultural products.
  • They talk about scientific standards. Codex was only passed by two votes. That is politics, not science.
  • The international standard is in ppb. Why did we change it to ppm?
  • The EU doesn’t allow racto imports.
  • If racto is so great, why don’t we allow domestic pigs to eat it?
  • The Mainland doesn’t allow it. Are we second-class citizens?
  • The three big American pork packers (Smithfield, Tyson, JBS) have stopped raising racto-pigs. Why should we import it?
  • If we allow racto-pork, will we be able to enter CPTPP? Why didn’t we apply to join CPTPP as soon as we opened? Why were we a week later than the Mainland? Before you said the critical barrier to CPTPP was food imports from Fukushima. Now it is racto-pork? Anyway, the USA is not in CPTPP.
  • According to DPP, we must allow pork to enter CPTPP. The Mainland has terrible relations with the USA and doesn’t allow racto-pork. Why should we be worried that they can enter CPTPP before us?
  • Three questions for Lee: 1) If we allow racto-pork, can we enter CPTPP? 2) Is opposing racto-pork equal to opposing American pork equal to opposing the USA? 3) Why doesn’t the DPP allow students, firefighters, soldiers, and athletes to eat American pork?

First Round, against banning imports of ractopamine pork

  • Let me answer those three questions. Yes, racto-pork is a barrier to CPTPP. 1) We have already opened up. If we reverse that, it will be cancelling an international promise our president made. We will be bouncing a check. 2) CPTPP requires members to follow international standards or provide scientific evidence for why they can’t. We have done two studies under President Ma and President Tsai, and both showed that conditions in Taiwan are consistent with using the international standard. If we don’t follow our own scientific evidence and instead allow politics to override the decision, our CPTPP negotiators won’t have any credibility. We already did this in 2012. Are we going to do it again in 2022? If we are going to refuse to use international standards without any scientific justification, they will worry that we will do the same thing with Malaysian shrimp or Vietnamese fruit. It’s already hard enough to enter CPTPP. We should set up another obstacle. We shouldn’t use a referendum to reject an international standard.
  • Is opposing racto-pork equal to opposing American pork equal to opposing the USA? This measure will hurt the USA more than anyone else. We get our pork imports from Canada, the EU, and the USA. Canada uses racto domestically, but not for export in order to differentiate Canadian pork from American pork. The EU doesn’t use racto. So the only real target is American pork. So opposing racto-pork is opposing American pork. I’ll reserve comment on whether that is also opposing the USA.
  • Why don’t we eat American pork? This is support for domestic food products, not opposition to American pork.
  • Do other countries ban ractopamine? Japan, Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam allow it; all 11 CPTPP countries have made their regulations according to international standards. China and EU are not exceptions. Ractopamine is a hormone, and the EU bans all hormones including ractopamine. However, the WTO has never accepted this choice. The USA sued the EU in 1997 and won, so the EU has to make an annual payment of USD100m to compensate the USA as well as zero tariffs on beef and guaranteed soybean purchases. They have to do this every year. China? In the recent agreement, China promised to make rules according to the Codex.
  • Is ractopamine really dangerous? If it were, I’d be against it too. It’s not. We opened to American beef in 2012. We eat more pork than beef, but 90% of our pork is domestic and 50% of beef is from the USA. We each eat an average of 2.7kg/year of American beef and only 0.6kg/year of American pork. It’s important to note that there hasn’t been a single case of racto health problems in the nine years that the market has been open to American beef.
  • According to our studies, a person would have to each 10 jin (6kg) of racto pork every day to cause a problem. That’s about 33 pork chops. My wrist is injured (shows wrist brace), so my wife fed by pork soup three meals a day. That was only 0.5 jin – it’s impossible to eat 33 pork chops a day. And you have to do that every day for five years for it to be toxic. And since 90% of our pork is domestic, it’s nearly impossible to buy that much racto pork. Everything is toxic if you take too much. The doctor gave me some pain medicine for my wrist. A small amount is safe; too much is dangerous. As long as you stay under the limits, it is fine. We don’t eat anywhere near 33 pork chops, and you can’t buy that much racto-pork. Our culture and practices are perfectly consistent with following the international standard.

Second Round, In favor of banning imports of ractopamine pork

  • Those explanations are not reasonable.
  • We eat 2.7kg of beef a year. Do you know how much pork we eat? 38kg! Of course we worry more about pork! All our box lunches are pork, not beef. You can’t compare beef and pork. We eat 3kg of pork offal every year. This is why President Ma could open up the beef market.
  • The EU pays a fine. We can do that too! I’m willing to pay a fine. We love American pork; we just don’t love racto-pork. Don’t you understand?
  • Codex was 69-67. How is that science? That is politics!
  • Why would we oppose Australian beef or Malaysian shrimp? They’re fine, so we don’t have any reason to oppose them.
  • You are afraid of bouncing checks on our promises. I don’t know what various presidents have promised. But this is a referendum. This is the will of 23m people. The DPP says this is the highest moral value. Taiwan’s future is determined by the 23m Taiwanese people. The will of 23m people is higher than the government’s policy. What government would dare override the result of their country’s referendum? The government can explain that they didn’t break their promise. It was the referendum that did it; it’s the public will. 沒辦法.
  • Why can the Mainland import 5m tons of American pork without ractopamine and we can’t import even 10,000 tons? Are we second class citizens? If they can, why can’t we?
  • If American racto pork can’t go to other countries, all of it will flood into Taiwan. Isn’t that scary? Do we need that?
  • Isn’t the USA our great friend? Will they really break their rock-solid friendship over a bit of pork? We can buy something else. We are buying a lot of military weapons. In the end, they will care about the bottom line, not whether we are specifically buying pork.
  • He talked about 33 pork chops, but scientists say that 6 bowls of pork liver soup is dangerous. Don’t tell me that 6 bowls is impossible. Mother-in-laws make pregnant women eat a lot of things.
  • I’m worried about offal. Last year we imported 6000 tons of pork intestines and bones, and 20,000 tons of ground up offal. That goes into all kinds of pork products we eat (lists several). Can we tell which ones have ractopamine? Why can’t we label it? What rule is that breaking? We can label GMO foods, so why not this?
  • He says there are no bad health effects. Have you asked any doctors? Maybe its ok for ordinary people, but people who are pregnant, have high blood pressure, heart problems shouldn’t touch it. How many people have high blood pressure? Why do we need this?
  • Domestic pork hold 93% of the market. If imported pork increases to 20-30% of the market, Taiwanese pork famers will lose at least NTD 15 billion (USD500m).
  • On CPTPP, the Japanese agricultural market is only 78% open. 21% of their market is closed and protected. Peru and Vietnam are 96% open. Canada and Mexico are 94%, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore are 100%. Every country has its own national conditions. You never see a country like Taiwan that loves to eat certain pork offal products. This is science. Every year we eat 3kg of offal. That is science. We eat 38kg of pork. That is science.
  • Americans don’t eat this stuff, especially offal. Americans barely eat any pork. Just bacon and sausage. Taiwanese eat lots of pork. That’s why we care about this.
  • When they talk about nuclear power, they don’t talk at all about science, it’s all emotion. We import less than 20kg of American pork a year. One nuclear power plant is at least USD10 billion. That’s GE and Westinghouse. That’s a big deal. When you stopped the 4NPP, weren’t they angry? Then we didn’t care about Americans. Isn’t that a double standard?
  • Why is the government using ppm instead of ppb?
  • Taiwan has a trade surplus of USD150billion with the Mainland. We don’t allow 2,444 agricultural products from the Mainland. Is that fair? Is this fair trade?
  • Legislators are useless. From both parties. All we have left is a public opinion. The government lies to us. Medigen is a fraud. Racto pork is a fraud. Algal reefs are a fraud. Green energy is a fraud. Four yes votes: that is public opinion.

Second Round, against banning imports of ractopamine pork

  • Chao asks why we can’t use a referendum to decide policy since public opinion is the highest value. Don’t forget: every country has public opinion. If we use public opinion to decide international trade, countries that rely on exports will be the biggest losers. Last year we had over NTD9 trillion in exports. Our total tax revenue was only NTD 2.9t. International trade is critical to all of us. Take computer chips. Countries don’t tax our chip exports because of WTO rules. Our chip trade surplus depends on other countries respecting their agreement to follow the rules. If Taiwan goes outside those rules to use a referendum to decide its trade policies, this would violate those international rules. If we use public opinion instead of international rules, Taiwan will be the biggest loser.
  • We eat 38kg of pork a year. 90% is domestic pork. Only 1.2% of our pork is American. It’s actually quite difficult to buy racto pork right now. Domestic pork doesn’t use racto. So if you are worried about racto, eat domestic pork and you won’t eat any ractopamine. It’s easy. If you are like me and don’t worry about ractopamine, most of the time I will still buy domestic pork. How much danger is there in that 38kg if we barely eat any American pork?
  • We eat 0.7kg of American pork and 2.7kg of American beef. After 9 years of imported beef, we have confidence that it is safe.
  • Why can’t we pay a fine like the EU? The EU has already paid 15 years, and it will continue to have to pay. Do our pork producers even want this? Anyway, why does the EU agree to pay this fine? If it is to ensure safety, I’d say it was worth it. But all our evidence shows that, even considering Taiwan’s eating culture, there is no danger to our health. Why should we pay this fine?
  • Chao says the Codex is political. It’s true that all international standards are voted on. But remember, our standards are just set by the Codex. We start from the Codex and then our experts do our own studies. President Ma did one; President Tsai did another. Australia, Singapore, and Japan all did their own studies of food safety and decided to open. The vote on the Codex is irrelevant. Our decisions are based on our own studies, just like everyone else’s.
  • Chao says that he has heard things on Line and the internet. Every society has people who don’t believe things no matter how much scientific evidence there is. That’s ok. That’s why we label the country of origin. Domestic pork doesn’t have ractopamine, so if you care about it you can avoid it.
  • Chao is worried that American pork will flood the market. We’ve been importing pork for over 20 years (since we joined WTO) and the market share has rarely been much above 10%, even when we had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We finally defeated foot and mouth disease in 2020, and we were able to resume pork exports. What if Japan and other countries use public opinion to pass a referendum saying they don’t believe we are really free of foot and mouth disease and ban our pork imports? Would that be fair?
  • According to our studies, Japanese studies, Australian studies, Singapore studies, there is no issue with food safety. If people don’t believe these studies, it’s ok. They can just look at the label and choose domestic pork.
  • GMO labeling is voluntary, not mandatory, so there is no question of international rules. If you want to use mandatory labeling for ractopamine, you have to provide a scientific justification for violating the international rules. This would cause stress with Canada, the USA, and others, and our own domestic pork producers would oppose it. Labeling country of origin and forbidding domestic use of ractopamine is simple, effective, and follows the rules.
  • Chao says Japan is only 78% open. Japan has several categories that are slowly transitioning to zero tariff, but they allow all these imports. None of the imports are banned. This is different from a move to ban imports of racto pork. The rules say you can only ban a product if you have a scientific basis. Again, our studies (and those from Japan, Australia, Singapore) don’t provide a scientific basis to ban racto pork, even considering our dietary customs. Again, we haven’t had a single case in 9 years of eating American beef, and we eat even less American pork. If you don’t believe this, just eat domestic pork and you don’t have to worry.
  • If the world uses public opinion to make decision, Taiwan will be the biggest loser.

My impression is that Lee generally made more persuasive arguments. Chao asked a lot of questions, but didn’t provide nearly as many concrete points to support himself. He likes to ask simple questions of the “If they can, why can’t we?” variety. These sound good until someone challenges them and explains that either “they can’t” or “here’s why we can’t.” The danger for the government side is that it is a lot easier to remember the simple question than the complex answer.

As an American, I’m a bit offended that Chao thinks that consuming American products is the same as loving America. Driving a Tesla is more an act of conspicuous consumption than one of patriotism. Also, I’m shocked to learn that Americans don’t eat pork. Chao got a MA from Clemson. Surely, he must have been introduced to Carolina BBQ.

More seriously, we can now see that debate focusing on several critical points.

  • Is ractopamine safe?
  • Is this referendum anti-American?
  • Will this referendum have an effect on CPTPP?
  • More generally, is it acceptable for Taiwan to make decisions case-by-case, or does Taiwan have an obligation to make its decisions according to international standards?

If people are paying attention to this debate, they are getting a fairly solid set of criteria to make their decision. I’m not sure how many people are paying attention, though.

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