A stock farmer walks at a local cattle market in Hongseong, about 170 km south of Seoul on July 29, 2008. South Korea is the only country maintaining its ban on Canadian beef since an outbreak of mad cow disease, in 2003.
The Canadian beef industry is cautiously optimistic that Canada and South Korea will resolve a seven-year-old beef trade dispute outside of the World Trade Organization, a top official said on Wednesday.
South Korea is the only country maintaining its ban on Canadian beef since an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in 2003.
Canada, the third-largest beef exporter, has complained to the WTO that the ban is unfair, however a ruling is not expected before summer and the ultimate conclusion may be years away.
Canadian and South Korean officials have continued talking outside the WTO process.
“We think Korea really needs to offer a pretty substantial deal if we’re going to stop this (WTO) process from carrying on,” said Brad Wildeman, past-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and chairman of a beef group that advises Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
“I’m a little bit optimistic, but I think we’re all jaded in the fact that we’ve had promises before with Korea.”
South Korea, a major beef consumer, accepts beef from cattle under 30 months of age from the United States but not Canada, even though both have controlled-risk status from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Canada believes it has a strong WTO case that, if successful, might expand beef access to South Korea for other exporters as well, such as the United States, Wildeman said.
South Korea is under pressure after China moved to ease beef restrictions on Canada earlier this year. However, expanding beef trade with North America is unpopular in Korea, whose government faced big street protests in 2008 after accepting U.S. demands for greater beef access.
The two sides later struck a “voluntary private sector agreement” banning the import of beef from cattle older than 30 months, which are considered to pose a greater risk of mad cow disease.
Canada is after wider access to South Korea than it won from China, which promised earlier this year to allow imports of boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months, as well as imports of beef tallow, Wildeman said.
Ritz said in a meeting of legislators on Nov. 18 that he is hopeful about the Korean talks.
“It looks like there’s a glimmer of hope that we may not have to go all the way through with the (WTO) panel,” Ritz said.
“We’re hopeful that the hammer of the panel, plus the good work done by the (Canadian) market access secretariat, will get that work done in the near future.
South Korean officials expressed optimism last month about resolving U.S. concerns about a free trade deal amid differences over the beef and auto trade.