By RICHARD SMITH

For the Capital Press

The South Korean government is considering resuming in October imports of Canadian beef, banned since May 2003 because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy cases.

In 2007, the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health awarded Canada "BSE controlled risk" status, which allows a country to export meat from cattle of any age, provided all specified risk material such as the spinal columns are removed.

Following the organization's decision, Ottawa asked the South Korea government to resume imports of Canadian beef. The Canada government said the meat's safety level was on par with U.S. beef, which South Korea let back in two years ago.

Upon Seoul's refusal, Ottawa took its case to the World Trade Organization last year, while asking Seoul to hold bilateral talks. Canada and South Korea will start negotiations July 13.

The South Korea government wants to avoid having to import all kinds of Canadian beef, including meat from cattle over 30 months old, if it loses its cases at the WTO. By negotiating with Canada, Seoul hoped to gain stricter trade terms than with the U.S.

"Canada has had 17 BSE cases, a far higher incidence than in the U.S., which has had only three. So we're considering widening the list of specified risk materials for Canadian beef," a Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official told Chosun Ilbo.

The government plans to ban imports of all entrails from Canadian cattle, while adopting European Union standards, which are stronger than those of the organization for animal health.

The Canada Beef Export Federation Korea director told Capital Press that while the South Korean government applies the international standard to the import of U.S. beef, it says it will apply the EU standard for Canadian beef.

"This sounds like a double standard," Hwan-Kyu Kim said. Kim said, however, he understands the government wants to psychologically prepare the South Korean people for "what is going to happen" by releasing its plan to the media.

The implication of using the EU standard seems to be that the government will try to exclude offal from the allowed product range, Kim said. "However, (the) Canadian beef industry has not agreed to such an idea and the product (range) has to be negotiated between the two governments," he said.

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