S. Korea To Inspect U.S. Beef Plants In Early March

S. Korea To Inspect U.S. Beef Plants In Early March

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–South Korea is preparing to send government officials to inspect U.S. beef production facilities in early March as part of a negotiated process to ease South Korea’s import ban, government and industry officials said.

A South Korean government official said details on the trip are being worked out now in Seoul and a U.S. industry representative said the delegation is expected to arrive in the U.S. on March 6. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. industry officials said the delegation is expected to inspect more than 20 U.S. beef facilities.

Senior U.S. Department of Agriculture officials were in Vietnam over the weekend for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group meeting and were scheduled to meet with South Korean officials in side meetings to make sure the beef ban-lifting process is running smoothly.

U.S. and South Korean negotiators reached a preliminary deal in January that would allow some exports of U.S. beef products to resume.

USDA Secretary Mike Johanns has said recently he expects that to happen by the end of March.

South Korea, along with most of the foreign markets for U.S. beef, stopped importing in December 2003 after a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, was discovered in Washington state.

The January agreement reached by U.S. and South Korean negotiators in Seoul would allow the U.S. export only boneless beef from cattle under 30 month old and would continue to ban bovine offal products.

The agreement — which would allow the U.S. to begin shipping to one of its former top foreign markets — was lauded and criticized at the same time by U.S. government officials.

Johanns said it was a “welcome” outcome, but U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman complained it did not go far enough.

“We will continue to urge Korea in the strongest terms to open its market without delay to U.S. bone-in beef, variety meats, and offal,” Portman said in January. “Together these products historically accounted for approximately 50 percent of U.S. beef exports to Korea.”

The U.S. exported $815 million worth of beef to South Korea in 2003 and $449 million of those shipments were boneless products, according to USDA.

Source: Bill Tomson; Dow Jones Newswires; 202-646-0088; bill.tomson@dowjones.com

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