The Hankyoreh | editorial | 23 April 2009
Removing the Korea-EU FTA beef imports provision
As negotiations for the South Korea-European Union free trade agreement (Korea-EU FTA) race into their final stages, the inner workings are starting to come to light. It has been reported that a tentative provision in the agreement restricts sales of generic drugs by South Korean domestic pharmaceutical companies and effectively permits the importation of European beef. Both of these are capable of dealing a severe blow to South Korea. In particular, allowing the importation of European beef is generating strong concerns about possible human health implications and should be immediately withdrawn.
By allowing the importation of U.S. beef last year, the government brought severe trouble upon itself. In response to negotiations that in effect abandoned both quarantine sovereignty and citizens’ rights to health, many South Koreans engaged in candlelight vigil demonstrations. A full year has not passed, and yet, the government is now about to allow the importation of European beef as well. I wonder if it is in its right mind.
European beef presents a far greater risk of mad cow disease infection than U.S. beef. In the three years from 2006 to 2008, there were no fewer than 601 cases of mad cow disease reported in the EU, with 218 in Great Britain and 129 in Spain, indicating a conspicuously higher frequency of mad cow disease cases in Europe than in North America. In the same period, Canada reported 12 cases.
The importation of European beef became possible because of a provision placed in the tentative FTA agreement stating, “decisions on the importation of agricultural products and livestock should be made in accordance with the standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).” If the negotiations are finalized with things as they stand, the EU can at any time demand that we import European beef, as its nations have already been classified by the OIE as “controlled risk” nations for mad cow disease, and we will have no choice but to comply.
Even the U.S. has barred the importation of European beef since 1997. In our case, the first mistake was putting a provision that obliges South Korea to comply with the standards of the OIE into the FTA agreement. The best thing to do would be to remove this provision before further controversy over this matter develops, and to make the importation of beef subject to a separate agreement.