U.S. senator criticizes S. Korea over beef imports

S. KOREA - Ahead of a new round of free trade talks with South Korea, an influential U.S. senator pressed South Korea Sunday to allow U.S. beef imports without restrictions reports Kim Deok-hyun on Yonhap News.
calendar icon 4 December 2006
clock icon 2 minute read
South Korea, which had bought US$850 million worth of U.S. beef a year, closed its doors to the American meat in late 2003 as mad cow disease broke out in the U.S. It lifted the ban earlier this year on the condition that it import only boneless meat to stem the mad cow fears.

For the second time in a month, South Korea last week rejected thousands of tons of U.S. beef shipments after three bone pieces were found in the chilled meat in violation of a bilateral agreement that allowed Seoul to resume imports.

"American beef is safe regardless of bones," Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, told reporters while eating a beef stake for lunch with Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea's chief free trade negotiator, and his U.S. counterpart, Wendy Cutler.

Kim and Cutler who serves as assistant U.S. Trade Represenative, will formally launch a fifth round of free trade talks on Monday in Big City, a ski resort in Montana, the second largest beef producer among U.S. states "I hope U.S. beef to be freely sold in South Korea," Baucus said during a brief photo session for South Korean journalists. He is slated to head the Senate Finance Committee, which will first review any free trade deal, according to the U.S. senator's Web site.

Baucus did not comment on the conditions set by South Korea for beef imports under its agreement with the U.S.

South Korean consumers are particularly concerned about mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Scientists say the animal disease is spread when farmers feed cattle with recycled meat and bones from infected animals. It is thought to cause the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

South Korean officials are concerned that the beef spat would negatively affect this week's round which should focus many other sensitive areas, including textiles and autos.

Last week, Baucus openly criticized South Korea over the beef row.

"It's unfortunate that Korea continues to aggressively press its unscientific ban on U.S. beef with another round of free trade talks just days away," the senator said in a statement.

"According to international standards, Korea should be accepting bone-in beef and offal as well as boneless U.S. beef right now, and they should move to take that step in Montana," he said.

Beef is one of the major farm products that the U.S. hopes to cover under a proposed free trade agreement it plans to sign with South Korea by mid-2007 at the latest.

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