Canada may be able to settle a beef trade dispute with Korea privately, even as the case heads toward a World Trade Organization dispute panel.
Korea knows it will probably lose the case and is looking for a way out, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association heard last week.
“It seems to me that there is some room for unofficial compromise and both sides can come to an agreement while the WTO process is ongoing,” said Amos Kim, a Canada Beef Export Federation representative in Korea.
Canadian officials also believe an out-of-court settlement is possible.
“They know how serious this is and they know they’re not on the right side of the issue,” said federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
Korea has banned beef imports from Canada since BSE was discovered in an Alberta cow in 2003, even though other nations have either fully or partially reopened their borders.
Korea resumed imports of U. S. boneless beef in April 2007, although the U. S. also had cases of BSE.
But political pressure in Korea runs against importing beef because of BSE concerns. It’s easier for Korea to ignore Canada than the U. S., which is a military power and a major trading partner, Kim said.
However, Canadians should have pursued the case more aggressively instead of relying on the U. S. to open up the market for them, said Kim.
“Canada asking for the same treatment as the U. S. without working harder than the U. S. was interpreted as either naive or arrogant,” he told CCA delegates.
Ted Haney, CBEF president, said Korea recognizes it has a weak case and is waiting for an acceptable offer from Canada.
One possibility is to allow all products from cattle under 30 months of age, when BSE is not a risk, added Brad Wildeman, CCA president.
“If they would accept that, I think we would be telling our government that’s an acceptable deal.”
But Wildeman said CCA will insist imports must include bone-in beef as well as boneless beef.
“If we can’t get bone-in, we haven’t gotten anything in that market.”
Wildeman acknowledged Canada may have been naive in not going after the Koreans harder on market access from the beginning.
“At the time, that was the advice we were getting from our intelligence sources,” he said.
“We thought we were working towards a solution. Had we known it was going to be this long, absolutely, I think we would have taken a different course.”