The Korea Times is reporting that South Korean officials may reopen that country's beef market to U.S. imports as early as next month, as concerns over bovine spongiform encephalopathy have eased.
Veterinarian experts from the two countries will meet in Washington, D.C., the week of June 6 to talk over details of U.S. beef safety. During the meeting - the third since the ban in December 2003 - experts will review lingering concerns in South Korea. Reports say that at this meeting, officials will "likely agree" on resumption of U.S. beef imports.
Seoul officials have expressed their intention to lift the ban, following in the footsteps of Mexico and Taiwan, but they have said it will take months until the sale of U.S. beef is allowed due to technical problems. The Korean delegation headed to the United States next week will inspect the improved U.S. system aimed at preventing BSE. The officials have said the would not lift the ban "until its safety is proved scientifically safe."
Even if talks are fruitful next week, the report notes that officials will have to meet "several times" to negotiate sanitary conditions and other safety issues. Those meetings could take months.
The paper reports that U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman has said he will make an effort to push Asian countries to reopen their beef markets to U.S. imports, and those remarks have "drawn keen attention here." Korea was the third-largest importer of U.S. beef after Japan and Mexico before the borders were closed. In 2003, Seoul imported 199,000 tons of beef from the U.S., about 68% of all imports to the country that year.