Beef stand-off retards U.S./South Korean trade talks

by Editor
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Trade officials from the US and South Korea resumed talks about free-trade agreement issues this week, but the issue of stalled US beef exports to Korea remains the big question mark.

South Korea agreed to consultations about its rejection of the only three shipments of US beef since beef trade resumed between the countries in September, but US officials do not want to talk about the beef shipments until they get more assurances.

The US wants to do more than just discuss why South Korea rejected the shipments - USDA officials say they are looking for a serious commitment on South Korea's part to work towards freeing up a viable channel for beef trade.

The beef issue is not technically part of the previously scheduled sixth round of free-trade agreement discussions between the US and South Korea.

According to Steve Norton, spokesman of the United States Trade Representative office, the Congress will not approve the free-trade agreement without a fully opened market for US beef.

South Korea, second-largest foreign market for US beef before 2003, banned US beef imports after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in late 2003, finally lifting the ban in September 2006.

South Korea then rejected the first three shipments of US beef, saying inspectors had found small bone or cartilage fragments and unacceptable levels of dioxin.