Sun, Jun 15, 2008 - Page 4 News List

S Korean trade minister to meet US counterpart


The top US trade negotiator hosted her South Korean counterpart on Friday in a meeting that aimed to ease the uproar in South Korea over a recent deal to resume US beef shipments.

Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon met Susan Schwab, the US trade representative, on Friday evening, but the private consultations surrounding the agreement to reopen South Korea’s market to US beef after four years could easily stretch into tomorrow, a Schwab spokesman said.

Neither US trade officials nor the beef industry would disclose very much about their goals for the meeting, though the Bush administration has said it is looking for “a mutually agreeable path forward.”

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office just months ago, sparked massive protests with his decision to allow US beef back into the country.

Fears about mad cow disease, which was first found in US cattle in 2003, prompting US beef to be shunned by many trade partners, have been the rallying cry for opponents with a broad range of concerns about Lee’s young presidency.

The US meat industry is keen to get the green light to ship a full range of products to the lucrative South Korean market, which was the third-largest buyer of US beef before Seoul clamped down on imports.

The resumption of the beef trade is also important to supporters of a major, still-unapproved, bilateral trade deal, which US lawmakers promise will not advance until the beef question is settled.

Before leaving for Washington, Kim said he was looking for measures to prevent the import of beef from US cattle older than 30 months.

At the same time, Lee’s government is hoping to minimize any changes to an April agreement and avoid the perception of reneging on a trade deal.

The frustrated US effort in South Korea mirrors attempts to regain full access to other prized beef markets in Asia, such as Japan and China.

Officials had hoped the situation would change after the World Organization for Animal Health (OEI), a Paris-based arbiter, gave the US a new safety rating last year.

Jim Robb, an agricultural economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center, said that South Korea’s response took on even more importance as a possible example of how that OIE rating has led to relaxed import policies for US beef.

He said that private US beef companies, meanwhile, would likely agree to do what they can to ensure that only beef from cattle below 30 months — most of what is exported falls in that category anyway — is shipped to South Korea.

Anti-government rallies that have echoed through the streets of the capital for more than a month, about 10,000 demonstrators gathered on Friday in front of Seoul’s City Hall, police said.

Many carried candles at the protest, which coincided with the anniversary of the deaths of two schoolgirls in a 2002 accident with a US military vehicle. That event became a flashpoint for anti-US protests.

“I think South Korea is a colony of the United States,” Shin Jung-ah, a third-year high school student, said in a speech to the protesters.

Referring to the dead schoolgirls, she said: “We will make efforts to change the situation where both of you died unfairly. I hope you support us from the heavens.”

Protesters chanted back, “Punish US murderer soldiers,” and called for changes in the agreement governing the presence of US forces. Some 28,500 US troops remain in South Korea in a legacy of the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a ceasefire that has never been replaced by a peace treaty.

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