TAIWAN -- Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, asked Taiwan to relax its ban on the import of bone-in and other U.S. beef products during a recent charity event in Taipei, according to Radio Taiwan International.

Although Francisco Ou, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said on Feb. 13 that any move to benefit U.S.-Taiwan relations would be supported by the ministry, other branches of the government would also have to assess U.S. beef safety.

Taiwan lifted its ban on U.S. boneless beef three years ago. The initial ban was put in place following the first bovine spongiform encephalopathy find in the U.S. back in 2003. In 2008, however, Taiwan imported more beef from the United States than from any other country.

"Taiwan imported 27,313 metric tons [60.2 million lbs.] of U.S. beef last year, valued at $127.7 million. That makes Taiwan our sixth-largest market by value [just behind Vietnam] and our eighth largest by volume [Russia and Egypt have more volume, but less value]," Joe Schuele, U.S.M.E.F. spokesman, told MEATPOULTRY.com.

At present, Taiwan’s U.S. beef imports are entirely boneless muscle cuts, as bone-in cuts (such as short ribs) and all variety meats, are excluded, Mr. Schuele added.

"By contrast, variety meats make up a significant portion of our beef exports to some other Asian markets," he said. "For example, variety meats make up about half of our beef export volume to the Philippines and about 88% to Indonesia. Only about 7% of our exports to Japan are variety meats and only about 6% to Korea. So while the percentages vary widely, there is definitely growth potential for any Asian market if variety meats are accepted."

There is no specific timeline for expanded access of U.S. beef in Taiwan at present. "But Taiwan’s risk assessment is well underway and seems to be going well, and this is an important step in the process," Mr. Schuele said.

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