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Beef holds up Korean-Canadian FTA

Korea Herald, Seoul

Beef holds up Korean-Canadian FTA

By Yoav Cerralbo

27 June 2005

Canada and Korea have enjoyed decades of positive bilateral relations and the future looks bright except for one major obstacle - beef - that is holding back negotiations for a free trade agreement between the countries.

Beef, of which Canada has plenty and Korea needs, has been in the news since the beginning of the year because of the discovery of three infected cows with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow" disease.

Korea like many other countries slapped a ban on U.S, and Canadian beef because of the findings, but little is known about what the Canadian government has done subsequently. The United States, which has struggled to re-enter the Korean market since its first mad-cow case in 2003, reported a second case of mad-cow disease last week but said the animal was blocked from the food supply chain.

"There’s been a huge scientific and technical review reassuring that any cases that are mitigated in the sense that if there are mad cows that there aren’t any repeated cases," said Marius Grinius, Canada’s ambassador to South Korea.

"We’ve been working very closely with agricultural scientists and technical experts, and on the Korean side there has been a sense that they want to concentrate first on the American beef issue," said Grinius. "What we have asked for is to ensure that we get equal treatment."

The newly arrived ambassador has been working hard to ensure that the beef trade will commence with Grinius working as the middleman, calling the Canadian agricultural minister to follow up and make sure that the technical exchanges are going smoothly.

"The last bit of the puzzle has been a Korean technical questionnaire that we are responding on a technical level and making sure that everyone is satisfied that Canadian beef is safe and should be reintroduced into the market," said the ambassador during an interview with The Korea Herald ahead of the Canada Day celebrations that took place Sunday at the U.N. Compound.

The beef problem has been one of the ambassador’s major preoccupations since arriving to Korea ten months ago.

"We are encouraging the Canadian experts to expedite the answers to the questionnaire that was only given to Canada on May 31 and we’ve already fed a lot of information into the system," said Grinius. "The representatives from the Canadian food inspection agency were here a couple of weeks ago talking to the right people and I’m hoping the responses would be in pretty quickly in the next couple of weeks."

There has been good news though for Canadian beef exporters to Korea, the OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, in Paris has "cleared Canada saying that Canada meets and surpasses all of the health safety issues for beef. Both parties attended the meeting not to long ago where it was declared and it’s very positive."

Besides the beef problem, both countries have had a good relationship across the board. "We hope to bring things to the next level I’m hoping that we’ll be in a position to announce the formal start of the negations for a free trade agreement that is going to be a good anchor for a blossoming relationship."

A relationship that has two-way trade hitting 8 trillion won a year led by cars into Canada and coal from Canada into Korea, not to mention pork and technology that is being traded both ways.

Korea is Canada’s eighth largest importer and third from Asia after Japan and China. The figures are rising and the ambassador is positive that both countries can do a lot better. "That’s where an FTA can be an instrument to enhance that trade relationship."

But as it stands, the FTA between Korea and Canada is on hold until both sides are satisfied that Canadian beef is safe for Korean consumption.

"Part of the thinking is that we in a Canadian point of view look at Korea as a wonderful gateway into the Northeast Asian region."

"From goods, to services and investments, everything is on the table," said Grinius. "But the question is getting into the nitty gritty to make sure that both sides are satisfied and can move forward."

The ambassador goes on to say that in every FTA both sides have to take care of their sensitive sectors "but overall the beauty is that when you look at the nature of our two economies, most of it is very complementary to each other, starting from a resource rich Canada to a resource hungry Korea even when you look at where we both are in terms of developing technology. We are not competitors, Canada is not competing to make more cell phones but there is neat software that those cell phones use from Canada."