Korea Flexible on US Beef Import

SOUTH KOREA - A senior agriculture official said Wednesday that the government could maintain its policy to allow only boneless U.S. beef by accepting the United States’ demand to abolish a 40-percent tariff on imported beef.
calendar icon 15 March 2007
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His remarks came after South Korea and the U.S. failed to narrow differences on the issue of Korea’s quarantine of American beef, which could be a critical deal breaker in free trade agreement (FTA) talks with the U.S.

``We are willing to resolve the quarantine issue in exchange for the U.S. demand to eliminate the 40 percent tariff on its beef shipments,’’ Min Dong-seok, assistant vice minister for agriculture and forestry, told an MBC radio program.

U.S. negotiators have continued to say that there would be no FTA if Korea does not import U.S. beef unconditionally _ deboned or containing bone.

Min, however, ruled out the possibility that Korea will propose a ``big deal’’ between the beef quarantine issue and automobiles or textiles. ``Big deals could happen in the agriculture or beef issue. But we’re not considering concessions in other FTA sectors.’’

On another radio program, Min said it would be difficult for the two countries to resolve the quarantine issue easily even in the scheduled high-level talks in Seoul next week.

He said both the quarantine and taxation issues will be discussed.

His remarks mean that the bilateral FTA talks will possibly reach a final agreement or break down by the end of this month, according to the results of the beef negotiations.

Last Thursday, Wendy Cutler, the chief U.S. negotiator in the free trade talks, criticized Korea’s policy to import only boneless beef, after bones found in U.S. beef shipments last year were deemed by Seoul to be a violation of import conditions. The conditions were imposed due to fears of mad cow disease that can be carried in certain bones.

Source: The Korea Times
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