Mad Cow Disease Isn't a Trade Issue

      December 29, 2003 22:19

      A delegation from the United States arrives in the country Tuesday, here to talk about Korea's move to prohibit the import of American beef, taken immediately after the discovery of a mad cow outbreak in the U.S. The delegation arrives approximately a week after the outbreak, and you can tell merely by the very speed with which it comes that the issue is a sensitive one.

      While in Japan, the delegation asked the Japanese to remove the same kind of import restrictions, so it is very likely it will ask the same while in Seoul. The situation is one in which the mad cow situation in the U.S. could develop into a trade issue.

      Put most simply, this is not something that can be the subject of trade friction. Had a Korean cow been found to have mad cow disease, the U.S. government undoubtedly would've taken strong action, including import restrictions. When the Korean government issued import restrictions and other measures regarding American beef, it was doing what it naturally had to do - putting the people's health and food safety first. It would be inappropriate to take issue with that.

      As much as 44 percent of the beef on the Korean market comes from the U.S., so until there are internationally recognized standards for judging American beef to be absolutely safe from mad cow disease, the U.S. can't be unreasonably asking for import restrictions to be lifted, and the Korean government can't agree to such demands, either.

      From the U.S. perspective, it makes sense to stress the safety of American beef and come asking for the Korean government's understanding, given how the losses from the mad cow situation will be great. But to take a forum for consultation and explanation and allow it to appear like trade pressure or friction would not be desirable, when you consider the whole of the US-Korea relationship. It must be understood that the situation is not one over which Korea and the United States should confront each other. It is something that must be worked on together, for cooperation in keeping consumer safety, the highest priority.
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