South Korea plans to hold talks with the United States next month over Seoul's rejection of American beef shipments for containing banned bone fragments, a South Korean official said Monday.
The talks are likely to be held in Seoul early next month, said the official with South Korea's Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, who asked not to be named as details of the talks had yet to be worked out.
The official said the two sides will deal with the issue of "bone fragments," which South Korea fears could potentially harbor mad cow disease. He didn't provide further details. The two sides had planned to meet in Seoul early this month but the meeting didn't take place due to conflicting schedules, according to the ministry.
The beef issue has emerged as a key sore point between the two countries that are seeking to forge a free-trade agreement. Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said earlier this month that the proposed free trade deal wouldn't be achieved unless South Korea fully reopened its market to American beef.
South Korea allowed the resumption of imports late last year on a limited basis - boneless meat only from cattle younger than 30 months - on the grounds that some material inside bones could be dangerous to consume and that younger animals are safe from mad cow disease.
But South Korean quarantine authorities returned all three shipments to the U.S. for containing the tiny bone fragments. South Korea barred U.S. beef in December 2003 after the first reported U.S. case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Before the ban, South Korea had been the third-largest market for U.S. beef.
Source: Associated Press