Taiwan may ease beef restrictions

TOPEKA — Gov. Mark Parkinson said Wednesday that he has been assured Taiwan will soon ease restrictions on imports of U.S. beef.

Parkinson met in Taiwan last week with President Ma Ying-jeou during a trade mission to the island nation. Parkinson said Ma indicated Taiwan would soon begin accepting shipments of U.S. beef, although no timetable was given.

The governor, speaking to reporters about his recent trade mission, said there had been considerable effort at all levels of government to reopen beef markets in Taiwan, as well as other nations in Southeast Asia.

"President Ma indicated that the input we provided was helpful, that he's headed toward a policy that will lift the ban," the governor said. "That would be a terrific benefit to the livestock industry, not just in Kansas, but across the United States."

Scarlett Hagins, spokeswoman for the Kansas Livestock Association, said Taiwan purchased $128 million in beef products from the United States in 2008.

"It would be encouraging news to the beef industry if we could get more beef into Taiwan," Hagins said. "If we could grow that market, it would be great."

Hagins said that according to state agriculture statistics, Kansas ranked third in the country in 2007 in live animals and meat exports with $596.2 million in sales, the most recent figure available.

Taiwan restricts imports to boneless beef products from cattle 30 months old and younger over concerns about mad cow disease.

Taiwan recently agreed to buy $425 million worth of wheat from the United States, most of which will come from Kansas.

"On every level, it was a success," Parkinson said of the trade mission. "We thought that it was important to go to Taiwan to thank the officials for entering into that agreement for us, to affirm that we would fulfill our obligations and, hopefully, lay the foundation for discussions about future sales."

Taiwan was the 16th largest market for Kansas products in 2008. Taiwan ranks as the seventh largest export market for U.S. agricultural products and the second largest consumer of U.S. agricultural products per capita.

Parkinson said he also visited the Garmin Ltd. plant in Taipei. Garmin CEO Min Kao is from Taiwan, and the maker of GPS navigation devices has its corporate headquarters in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe.

Next month, Parkinson returns to Southeast Asia, speaking in China's Hunan Province at an energy meeting. He said Kansas is seeking outside investment in Asian countries to develop renewable energy, including additional manufacturing of wind energy components.

The governor spoke at a two-day green energy summit while in Taiwan.