- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

SEOUL (AP) — South Korea slapped a de facto ban on imports of U.S. beef yesterday after recent shipments that were intended for domestic consumption, not export, the Agriculture Ministry said.

The Agriculture Ministry said yesterday that Washington had acknowledged on Friday that a shipment from Cargill Inc. and another 51.2-ton delivery from meat producer Tyson Foods Inc. were intended for domestic consumption, not for export.

South Korea decided not to issue import certificates for U.S. beef until Washington explains why the two shipments intended for domestic consumption were sent to South Korea and can ensure it won’t happen again, said Kim Do-soon, a ministry official.

South Korea asked Washington last week for an explanation after banned rib bones were found in two boxes of a 15.2-ton shipment of Cargill Inc. beef. South Korean officials suspended imports from the facility that processed the meat.

The incident is expected to have a negative effect on U.S. efforts to get South Korea to open wider its beef market, the third-largest U.S. beef destination after Japan and Mexico.

Although beef is not part of a recent free-trade agreement between the countries, Washington has demanded greater access to South Korea’s beef market to help muster support for the pact, which still requires legislative approval.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the agency is working to respond to South Korea’s request for an explanation.

“We are already in the process of putting that information together,” Mr. Johanns told reporters. “I am very confident we can get them the information they need.”

Both Cargill and Tyson Foods said yesterday they did not export the meat, but sold it to a third-party company, which shipped it abroad.

A spokesman for Cargill declined to identify the facility that received the suspension from the South Korean government, saying the issue is “moot,” since the company was not responsible for the shipment.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said the shipments were made by Am-Mex International, a West Coast distributor. Am-Mex could not be immediately reached for comment.

A USDA spokesman said the agency believes the error was an isolated incident caused by mistakes on the part of Am-Mex and government inspectors.

“The warehouse that made these shipments was not experienced in shipping to Korea and did not follow procedures specific to Korea,” said spokesman Keith Williams. “There was also human error on the part of a USDA inspector, who should not have signed the export certificates.”

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