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US/Korean trade nonsense has to stop

Cattle Network (USA) 8/3/2007

Jolley: U.S./Korean Trade Nonsense Has To Stop

Let’s take two groups of people to the wood shed. The first group should be the Korean Agriculture Ministry who transparently let the farmers of that country dictate trade policy in complete disregard to their citizens’ nutritional needs and the trade agreements signed by U.S. and Korean representatives.

In their never-ending, on again-off again flirtation with American beef, Korean authorities effectively blocked all U.S. beef from reaching store shelves on Thursday after banned parts were found in a recent shipment, a move that threatened to sabotage the passage of a sweeping bilateral free trade pact currently in the equally politically-motivated hands of U.S lawmakers. Officials took a baby step backwards that day, though, when they decided to temporarily suspend quarantine inspections and not shut the door on trade of U.S. beef.

This time, the stoppage wasn’t caused by the ridiculous claim that a few bone chips might be a danger to the health and welfare of Korean shoppers. It was the claimed discovery of SRM’s in a July shipment - specifically spinal material - that gave Korean officials good cause to close the door.

According to a quote by anonymous representative of the beef distributor in the Korean publication, Hankyoreh, "The U.S. beef shipment in which spinal matter was discovered was imported by a domestic food company Excel, which is one of the four largest meat companies in the U.S."

To be totally forthcoming here, the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Lynn Heinze clarified the SRM issue this way: "The problem is that at the time our current agreement was approved in March, there was still debate about how to properly define SRMs. According to Korean officials, the spinal column qualified as an SRM (even though the spinal chord, the real danger, had been removed). But, as indicated by the quarantine service’s statements, they recognize the OIE definition is very different from theirs and they’re working on adopting OIE standards.”

As a result, however, Kim Chang-sub, an agriculture ministry official, told reporters, "South Korea will decide whether to ban U.S. beef imports after seeing if Washington takes sufficient measures. We will ban it if the measures are not enough." Nothing subtle about that statement, or maybe I should call it what it really is - an outright threat that will rankle too many people in the U.S. House and Senate.

And that leads me to the second group of people that should be taken to the wood shed: the distracted individuals running a few American beef plants that can’t get their export act together. A few shin bone splinters are one thing, guys, but SRM’s? Even if the spinal cord had been removed leaving only the bones in place, that’s like handing the enemy a fully loaded Uzi machine gun and saying, “Please don’t shoot me.”

Or going to Iraq and locating those roadside bombs in advance so it won’t be too difficult to run over them in your lightly armored Humvee.

Or stepping outside a jet liner at 35,000 feet to have a smoke.

Just grab the damn Uzi and shoot your foot off, already. Or, better yet, ask the sinner at Excel who let this shipment slip through the system to light up one last cigarette, put on a blind fold, step forward and do the honorable thing. Volunteer for a tour of duty in Iraq.

If American beef packers want to reopen what was once their third largest export market, they must gain complete control over their processes. Somebody somewhere needs to revive “Six Sigma,” the disciplined, data-driven approach for eliminating production defects that was all the rage in the 1990’s.

OK, let’s retreat to our respective corners, now, and speak rationally. Korea has an agreement with the U.S. that’s very specific in how trade must be conducted between our countries. Trade with America has been an economic boon to that small country wedged between China and Japan, its traditional enemies, and forced for over half a century to stare across the most heavily militarized zone in the world. Continuing to honor the spirit of that agreement as the details of a new treaty are worked will be a win-win for both countries.

Letting internal politics and special interest groups rule the roost means the beginning of an escalating trade war that could keep Hyundai’s cars and LG’s wide screen TV’s and other household appliances out of America and Texas beef out of Korea. It shouldn’t be allowed to get that far.

Patrick Boyle, President and C.E.O. of the American Meat Institute, was right on target when he responded to the situation by saying, “The multiple BSE mitigation measures in place ensure that there is no food safety issue involved with American beef. This conclusion is supported by the Organization of International Epizootics, which has determined that all beef and beef products from the United States - either bone-in or boneless - are safe to trade and consume.”

Fortunately, Steve Norton, spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative, thinks this incident shouldn’t permanently derail progress on the KORUS free-trade agreement.

"It doesn’t change the big picture, which is that Korea’s president has committed to adopting import protocols that reflect OIE standards," he said. "And I think Korea knows full well that Congress is unlikely to approve the FTA so long as its beef market remains inappropriately closed to U.S. beef."

I suggest Korea should continue to reject the occasional box of beef - the containers of boneless meat that accidentally contain bones or SRM’s - and let the rest go through. Their buying public can make the decision about the quality of the product. At the same time, American beef packers should continue to work on their quality control procedures and get it right before the new treaty is finalized.

 source: Cattle Network