12/30/2011 05:55 EST | Updated 02/29/2012 05:12 EST

South Korea Beef Imports From Canada Close To Resuming After Eight-Year Ban


OTTAWA - South Korea has taken a "big step" towards allowing imports of Canadian beef to resume after a more than eight-year ban, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Friday.

The two ministers said ratification by the South Korean parliament of import health requirements for Canadian beef under 30 months of age is among the final steps necessary before beef trade resumes.

"This has been a long journey and today's announcement is a big step forward for our hard working beef producers to once again bring their world class product to the South Korean marketplace," Ritz said.

"The re-opening of this market will benefit our industry and the entire Canadian economy and we look forward to the finalization of the commercially viable agreement and the commencement of trade."

South Korea banned imports of Canadian beef and beef products in May 2003 following the country's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, commonly referred to as mad cow disease.

After years of emphasizing that there is no scientific basis for the ban, Canada requested a World Trade Organization panel to review South Korea's ban on Canadian beef.

Last June, Ottawa and Seoul agreed on a process to restore access by the end of 2011. Following this agreement, Canada formally requested a suspension of the WTO proceedings.

The process to restore access is now close to conclusion, Fast and Ritz said in the release.

After ratification of the import health requirements, the South Korean government still has to promulgate the IHRs early in the new year, then issue a list of approved beef establishments for export and formally accept the import health certificates.

"This is expected to happen early in 2012," the release said.

The South Korea, the last major Asian market to ban Canadian beef, could be worth $30 million to Canadian producers by 2015, according to Canada Beef Inc., the marketing division of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

In 2002, before the ban, South Korea was Canada's fourth-largest beef market.