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South Korea To Reopen To U.S. Beef Next Tuesday

The Korea Herald quotes a Korean Ag Ministry official as saying Seoul will resume U.S. beef imports June 6

The Korea Herald quotes a Korean Ag Ministry official as saying Seoul will resume U.S. beef imports June 6, with South Korean consumers expected to be able to purchase U.S. product around the end of the month.

Park Hyun-chool, head of the ministry's livestock bureau, says the government will announce on June 6 the list of U.S. plants approved for export. In May, South Korean experts inspected 37 U.S. processing plants looking to export beef to South Korea.

"Announcing the qualified processing plants is tantamount to declaring the resumption of U.S. beef imports as it allows the plants to start shipping their beef," Park said.

He added imports will resume in only the products agreed to Jan. 13 by the two nations, which calls for only boneless product from cattle 30 months of age and less. The U.S. has lobbied intensely for the inclusion of bone-in product.

As expected, South Korean activist groups resumed their calls for a consumer boycott of U.S. beef, claiming politicians yielded to unrelenting and irrational U.S. pressure. Much like their U.S. counterparts, these groups have limited political clout but garner significant media coverage and play a role in shaping public opinion.

It's been 29 months since South Korea was closed to U.S. beef despite clear science regarding its safety and low-level BSE risk. Throughout the process, South Korea's government seemingly has been more willing than Japan's to face off against internal political consequences and accept the science. Of course, South Korea faces the added pressure of upcoming talks regarding a free-trade agreement with the U.S.

In retrospect, the Koreans have been far more politically adept in their delaying tactics than Japan, tying their decision to the reopening of the Japan market, thus placing all the pressure on Japan. During the closure, South Korea also avoided making inflammatory statements. It then moved ahead of Japan in reopening the border, positioning itself as the good guy.

Now the real work begins. For the U.S., rebuilding its relationships with its former No.1 (Japan) and No.3 (South Korea) export markets won't be quickly done.