South Korea, U.S. to Extend Beef Talks

SOUTH KOREA - South Korea and the United States plan to hold an extra day of talks on stalled imports of American beef and other agriculture issues, an official said Wednesday.
calendar icon 22 March 2007
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Agriculture negotiators began meeting Monday, but with no major progress made they planned hold another session Thursday, said Yoon Young-goo, an Agriculture and Forestry Ministry official.

The talks are aimed at bridging gaps in the agriculture sector component of ongoing free trade talks between the two countries as well as over trade in U.S. beef, which has been absent from South Korean markets for more than three years.

South Korea banned American beef after mad cow disease was discovered in the United States in December 2003. Efforts to restart imports have been stymied by the discovery of bone fragments in three shipments last year.

South Korea agreed to resume limited imports of U.S. beef last year, stipulating that only boneless beef from cows under 30 months of age be allowed.

Scientists believe mad cow disease spreads when farmers feed cattle recycled meat and bones from infected animals. It is also believed to be linked to the rare but fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease found in humans.

South Korea was formerly the third largest overseas market for U.S. beef.

The ban on beef related to mad cow disease fears is technically not part of the free trade negotiations. U.S. lawmakers, however, have said it will be difficult for the proposal to cut tariffs and other barriers to trade to win legislative approval if the beef issue remains unresolved.

South Korea and the United States are also at odds over rice as Seoul wants to exclude its market for the country's staple crop from the free trade deal.

The two countries are trying to wrap up an agreement by March 31. Chief negotiators were meeting this week in Washington to narrow differences in other sensitive issues, such as trade in autos.

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