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[Editorial] Korea-U.S. FTA and Beef Market Opening Should Go Together

[Editorial] Korea-U.S. FTA and Beef Market Opening Should Go Together

Posted January. 22, 2008 07:17,   


The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry reported to the presidential transition committee at the beginning of the year that it can remove the age limit on imported U.S. beef from the moment that Washington implements stricter bans on animal feed. In other words, Korea has declared for the first time that it may import boneless U.S. meat from cattle aged older than 30 months, following U.S. demands, as it shifts away from its current regulation that bans the import of meat from cattle aged younger than 30 months. Korea, however, proposed one condition; the United States must completely ban the current practice of giving animal feed that contains “Specified Risk Material (SRM)” such as cow’s brains and internal organs to pigs and cats just as the European Union (EU) and Japan do.

Unfortunately, it is highly likely that the United States will reject this “conditional offer” that may burden the facility investment by its agricultural and stock farms. This raises concern that the historical free trade agreement (FTA) between the two nations may come to an impasse. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said last Friday, “The Korea-U.S. FTA will be ratified in Congress if the beef issue is cleared.” Congressmen who come from ranch states also claim, “There is no FTA ratification without the opening of the beef market.”

Among 88 U.S. beef importing nations, 14 countries including Korea, Chile, Hong Kong and Taiwan have imposed strict conditions that the meat comes from cattle aged younger than 30 months and contains no bone fragments. Some other five nations including Vietnam have the same condition except the bone part. On the other hand, Japan imports meat with bones such as ribs, and even plans to loosen its regulation requiring the cattle to be aged less than 20 months. The remaining 68 countries including Canada, Mexico and the EU have no regulations regarding the age and the parts of the cattle to be imported. Therefore, the United States has concentrated on placing pressure on the 14 nations and Japan to open their markets wider.

Adhering to stricter regulations on imported U.S. beef than the EU may not be the best idea for Korea. The Korea-U.S. FTA may not be approved in Congress if the Bush administration fails to submit the ratification bill until March. What is worse, the agreement may come to nothing if the Democrats win the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November. Therefore, the best option for Korea is to have the ratification approved in the National Assembly during the February special session and then, urge the ratification by the U.S. Congress. This leaves Korea to ease its regulations on imported U.S. beef in time for the approval of the bill in the National Assembly.