- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

SEOUL (AP) — South Korea agreed to resume U.S. beef imports, which had been halted over mad cow disease, clearing a key hurdle to a broader trade deal with the United States.

South Korea suspended imports of U.S. beef in 2003 after mad cow disease was discovered in the U.S., cutting off what was then the third-largest market for American beef.

Restricted imports resumed last April, but have been on hold since October when a shipment contained animal parts that have been banned over mad cow concerns.

The beef issue has been a major irritant in relations between the allies, and threatened prospects for approving a wider free-trade agreement — one of the main agenda items at a summit that started yesterday in Washington between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and President Bush.

Although not directly related to the free-trade pact, some U.S. lawmakers had insisted the beef issue needed to be resolved for them to back the deal. Legislatures in both countries have yet to approve the pact that was negotiated last year.

South Korea’s Agriculture Ministry said yesterday that revived imports were expected to begin in mid-May and expand in stages.

Seoul will first allow American beef imports from cattle younger than 30 months, including cuts with bones. Younger cows are believed to be less at risk for mad cow disease.

Beef from older cattle will also be cleared for imports after the U.S. strengthens controls on feed to reduce chances of infection, the ministry said.

South Korea’s chief negotiator Min Dong-seok said the United States had agreed to press for the feed measures, adding that resolving the beef issue would help strengthen ties between the two countries.

“The beef issue has been a factor that caused distrust between South Korea and the U.S.,” Mr. Min told reporters.

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