South Korea’s Kim Rules Out Negotiations on U.S. Beef Imports

Kim Jong Hoon, South Korea's trade minister
Kim Jong Hoon, South Korea's trade minister. Source: Yonhap News via Bloomberg

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong Hoon ruled out holding talks on scrapping age limits on U.S. beef imports, which were not adjusted in a revised free trade agreement announced earlier this month.

“It is our government’s firm position that there is no room for further discussions on it,” Kim said today in an interview with KBS radio in Seoul. He said he hoped the trade accord would take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

The U.S. and South Korea on Dec. 3 agreed to change provisions in the trade deal, which had been stalled by legislators since it was signed in 2007 over U.S. demands for improved access for its cars and beef. While the revised agreement included scaling back initial tariff cuts for vehicles by both countries, U.S. beef wasn’t covered.

South Korea restricted beef imports in 2003 when the U.S. discovered its first case of mad cow disease. After resuming purchases in 2008, the government restricted shipments to those from cows aged younger than 30 months.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who demanded that South Korea drop restrictions on U.S. beef imports from older cattle, said last week he was unhappy with the revised trade agreement.

American beef producers lobbied to get the original deal completed quickly to gain an advantage over competitors in Australia because the accord reduced the 40 percent tariff levied by South Korea. Once the deal is in force, U.S. pork and beef exports to South Korea might increase by $2 billion a year, the American Meat Institute estimates.

The trade deal’s changes also included allowing U.S. automakers more flexibility in meeting South Korean emissions and environmental requirements. This may prompt the European Union to demand similar amendments to its free trade agreement with South Korea, set to take effect in July, Kim said today.

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