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U.S. Beef Trade To South Korea To Resume. No, Really!

South Korean's government continues to walk a fine line on the resumption of beef imports. On Saturday, it reached an agreement whereby the U.S. government agreed to supervise a private industry accord with South Korea to only export beef from animals younger than 30 months of age.

South Korea's government essentially refrained from backing out on its earlier agreement to allow meat from cattle over 30 months, but also hopes to quell domestic fears about BSE in U.S. beef. On Thursday, the Korean government was to post a notice announcing the resumption of beef trade in the official government gazette, the last bureaucratic hurdle.

Of course, it’s in the best interest of the U.S. industry to ease the consumer concerns that have delayed the resumption of trade three times already. The key questions – after seeing thousands of Koreans protesting in the streets over U.S. beef imports – are how much has the reputation of U.S. beef been damaged, and how long will it take to regain the market share lost since 2003?

There are numerous learned lessons from this frustrating process, but the situation also posits a number of questions regarding international trade, in general.

First off, there’s a large anti-globalization movement that exists in virtually every country in the world. And it’s striking that even the government of South Korea, a country that enjoys a major trade surplus with the U.S., can experience such extreme political pressure for merely adhering to negotiated agreements and internationally accepted scientific standards.

The advocates of global trade have long argued that world commerce would soon be so intertwined – with everyone so dependent on international trade and focused on maintaining trust and their international reputations – that trade between countries would become as seamless as trade between states. The South Korean situation would seem to point up, however, just how rocky and raucous it may be to get to that point.