Trade officials from the U.S. and South Korea are scheduled to talk about free-trade agreement issues on Monday, but the issue of U.S. beef imports remains a big question mark. South Korea agreed to consultations about its rejection of the only three shipments of U.S. beef since beef trade resumed between the countries in September, but U.S. officials do not want to talk about the beef shipments until they get more assurances.
The U.S. 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, a commitment South Korea has shirked so far.
Although the beef issue is not technically part of the previously scheduled trade talks, the sixth round of free-trade agreement discussions between the U.S. and South Korea, United States Trade Representative office spokesman Steve Norton told Meatingplace Thursday, "Korea knows the U.S. position without a fully opened market for U.S. beef, Congress will not approve the [free-trade agreement]."
South Korea banned U.S. 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 U.S. beef, saying inspectors had found small bone or cartilage fragments and unacceptable levels of dioxin.
Before the 2003 ban, South Korea was the second-largest foreign market for U.S. beef.