Go to contents

[Editorial] Bipartisan Approach to Resolve Beef Issue

Posted May. 14, 2008 08:36,   


The U.S. government officially acknowledged the Lee Myung-bak administration’s demand for an immediate ban on import of American beef when a case of mad cow disease is reported in the United States. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced yesterday that the U.S. government supports the statement of the Korean prime minister and will not make any other demands. The new gesture is believed to be aimed at appeasing public opinion in Korea, which has been deteriorating ever since the Lee administration accepted the new rule of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Under the rule, Korea can import American beef from the cattle older than 30 months after specified risk materials, or SRMs, which are normally tissues where the disease agent can accumulate, are removed.

The United States has rarely changed its position when a deal is cut. The turnaround will probably relieve the fear of Koreans to some degree. Washington and Seoul acted on the OIE rules in carving out the deal in such ways as to deprive Korea of the right to ban beef imports even when mad cow disease is reported. But the very rule has escalated concerns among Koreans. The Lee administration could have induced the U.S. concession during the negotiation if it had paid a little more attention to public sentiment.

The beef deal was a debacle in terms of timing and substance. First, it came out just prior to the summit meeting between President Lee and President Bush, leaving a wrongful impression on Koreans that we rushed things too fast. Furthermore, in substance, the deal flung open the door for critics. First, the Lee administration mistranslated an article in the federal gazette on animal feeds in the United States. In addition, no other countries, like Japan and Taiwan, have accepted import of U.S. beef from cows 30 months old or more. But the Lee administration set the precedent, which had Koreans believe that Washington swayed Seoul the way it wanted.

It’s time to review the deal word by word. It’s better late than never. President Lee himself conceded that his administration had not made enough effort to help the people understand the issue directly related to public health and food safety. Our government should reflect on itself. Through the self-learning process, the officials can prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future negotiations such as free trade agreements with other countries. What is needed is the sincere effort to persuade the opposition parties as well as the public, along with additional measures to deal with the shortcomings.

At the same time, we have to calm ourselves down. In addition to the rare move by the U.S. government, U.S. Congress also promised to hold a hearing on the safety of American beef. Opposition leaders and civic groups should think carefully. They have to decide how to best serve the national interests and best relieve public fear.