Taiwan on Saturday voted against reimposing a ban on US pork in a contentious referendum that tested trade ties with Washington as the island seeks to expand its international presence.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling party had campaigned against reinstating a block on all imports of pork containing ractopamine, an additive used by American farmers that enhances the growth of lean meat.
The substance is banned in places including the European Union, China and Russia.
The referendum proposal failed to pass with more than 4.13 million people voting “no” against around 3.94 million in favour.
It required nearly 4.96 million “yes” votes to reimpose the ban.
The result showed that “Taiwanese people hope to go out to the world and are willing to actively participate in the international community”, Tsai told reporters.
Her government lifted restrictions on ractopamine pork last year, angering local farmers in a move widely seen as a bid to make headway in trade talks with Washington.
The island’s political opposition seized on public unease about lifting the ban as restaurants started putting up signs proudly declaring they would only serve local pork.
Large protests were held and at one fierce parliamentary debate opposition lawmakers dumped a bucket of pig guts on the floor in protest.
Taiwan has a tradition of holding referendums on controversial issues.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had warned that a “yes” vote on the pork ban would hurt Taiwan’s trade ties with its key ally and jeopardise a bid to join a major trans-Pacific trade pact.
It comes as Taiwan tries to expand its presence on the international stage in the face of efforts by China to isolate the island.
China has stepped up its campaign to sideline Taiwan since Tsai’s 2016 election win as she rejects Beijing’s stance that the island is part of Chinese territory.
Beijing has accused the DPP of “manipulating” referendum issues and “colluding with pro-Taiwan politicians in the United States and Japan” to fan anti-China sentiment.
The Taiwanese public also on Saturday rejected three other motions put to them in a vote, including a proposal to restart a nuclear power plant project that was sealed off in 2014 over safety concerns.