ews that South Korea may soon lift a ban on Canadian beef imports could be a major boost for Canada’s beef sales abroad, an industry official
South Korea’s agriculture minister was recently quoted as
saying his country could remove the eight-year ban by the end of June.
That would reopen one of Canada’s biggest overseas markets for beef. It could also become a wedge for fully restoring beef trade with other Asian countries, said John Masswohl, government and international relations director for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
Recapturing the South Korean market could be a lever to restoring full trade with Japan, China and Taiwan, he said. For example, Japan imports only beef from animals under 21 months of age.
South Korea has banned Canadian beef imports since 2003 when BSE was discovered in Alberta. It is the only remaining country to maintain a total ban on beef from Canada.
Canada is challenging South Korea’s actions before a World Trade Organization trade dispute panel. A confidential interim panel ruling is scheduled for release April 29.
Masswohl said Canada’s lawyers “presented a very strong case” at the WTO hearings and South Korea may feel it will lose the ruling.
“I think it’s going to be in our favour and I’ll bet you the Koreans think it’s going to be in Canada’s favour.”
Although South Korea bans Canadian beef, it does import beef from the U.S., which also has BSE. The OIE lists both countries as “controlled risk” for BSE, meaning they may export beef if they implement certain disease control measures.
This makes the Koreans’ position inconsistent and puts them on shaky legal ground, said Masswohl.
As a result, South Korea may be sending up a trial balloon for settling the case out of court, he suggested.
“It sure seems like there’s some smoke in the air. The question is, is there fire? I hope there is.”
Canadian officials have been working for several years on a possible bilateral agreement apart from the WTO for resuming beef trade.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was quoted as saying before the current federal election campaign that a resolution was close.
With the campaign now underway, federal officials are not saying anything. Masswohl said he and others have asked questions but received no information.
With $50 million worth of sales, South Korea was Canada’s fourth-largest foreign beef market pre-BSE, after the U.S., Mexico and Japan.
The fact that South Korea imported a lot of bone-in product, such as short ribs, made it a particularly useful market to have, Masswohl said. [email protected]
– JOHN MASSWOHL, CCA