Where's the Beef?.... Canadian That Is!

by Yoav Cerralbo, Korea Herald, 09.07.27., 31/07/2009

Last summer, the row in Korea was over allowing US beef on supermarket and butcher shelves. This summer, Koreans are buying and consuming vast quantities of US beef. The new chapter in the Korean beef saga involves Canada. No protests on the streets for now... but we'll see what happens have the World Trade Organization issues its judgment. Following is an article that appeared in the Korea Herald following an interview with Canada's Ambassador to Korea, Ted Lipman.

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Canadian beef’s tale since ban 
For six years, Canada and Korea have been living the Charlie Brown-Lucy relationship. No, not that psychological visits that Charlie Brown pays for but the football relationship in which Lucy always pulls back the football right before Charlie Brown is about to kick the ball. In this analogy Charlie Brown is Canada, Lucy is Korea and the football is the prospect of letting Canada resume beef imports within a few months.

After six years, we had to figure on how to get out of this rut, explained Canadian Ambassador Ted Lipman to The Korea Herald. The answer Canada sought was to seek World Trade Organization intervention to end the dispute with Korea over Seoul’s ban on Canadian beef imports. Korea banned imports of Canadian beef after bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, was discovered in a Canadian cow in 2003.

Since that time, we met with the Korean side 13 times in technical discussions, said Lipman.
We've provided thousands of pages of scientific information; far more than would be required to resolve this issue, and we basically got to the point where we realized that Korea was really not prepared to resolve this issue in the context of the bilateral discussion, so we had no choice but to refer this matter to the WTO.

Before the ban, Korea was Canada’s fourth-largest beef export market, valued at $43 million in 2002.
In 2003, the World Organization for Animal Health concluded Canadian beef and cattle were safe for international trade after the country implemented measures to mitigate and eradicate the disease from its stocks. Canada encountered about 16 cases of BSE in cattle since 2003, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency maintained there was no risk to public health since none of the cows entered the human food systems. Since then Canada says it has implemented surveillance, mitigation and eradication measures to keep the disease at bay. The OIE reconfirmed Canadian beef was safe in May 2008 and 2009.

The request for a WTO panel to rule on the case comes after WTO-brokered talks failed earlier this year. The panel is where the matter will be adjudicated and where other member countries can join Canada, he said. Furthermore, whatever results may come out of the panel will apply not just to Canada but to other countries that joined as well.

Last week, Korea rejected the establishment of the panel. According to WTO regulations, the country on the receiving end of a complaint has only one chance to reject a panel review. What that indicates to me is that there may be some vulnerability in their position, Lipman said. Maybe they feel that they need more time. It is not unusual for a country to reject a panel.

Lipman stressed that just because both countries are reviewing this issue at the WTO it does not mean that both countries have a negative relationship. On the contrary, both countries share a very friendly relationship. Sometimes countries have disagreements and sometimes it requires the WTO, which we both joined for the purposes of when these kinds of things come up. Korea is one of Canada’s top eight trading partners and is also in the top 10 in many other fields such as education, trade and tourism.

But back to the beef at hand; Japan, which is right next door, has found 34 cases of BSE within the last few years.The reason why we find it is because we look for it and, in a very transparent way, we inform the consumer that this food inspection system in Canada is working and that creates consumer confidence, he said. Lipman explained that due to Canada’s tough food inspection system, the OIE marked Canadian beef as a controlled risk; the same label the United States shares. It means that Canadian beef is safe to eat that’s why we export beef to 55 countries including Japan.

The ambassador went a little further by asking the question, why is it that Japan has so many cases and Korea, which is right next door, has none? In other words, there is an issue here of beef safety.
Korea does not have an OIE designation; the Korean government recognizes this issue and is currently seeking a risk assessment from the OIE. We are dealing with the same criteria, we are dealing with the same types of measures to ensure consumer safety, he said. There’s no reason, scientific or otherwise, to exclude Canadian beef from the market.

Lipman was also curious about Korea’s reputation as a country which is seeking to fight protectionism worldwide. So I wonder if its good for Korea's reputation to be seen, as they are in this case, to be a closed market and a market which does not treat access on the basis of international rules and, when you get down to it, scientific principle.

Lipman added that there has been a lot of misinformation or incorrect information in the local press concerning the safety and cleanliness of Canadian beef. Instead, we should focus on the science, lets focus on the rules, as long as we do that we think that Canada, if were treated fairly, will succeed.

The ambassador reassures that Canadian beef, if it enters the market, will not compete with local beef. We believe Canadian beef is the tastiest, highest quality beef in the world, he said. We are convinced that when the consumer has the opportunity to eat Canadian beef, they will see that its price is very competitive.

AP Photo - Canadian Beef in a supermarket in Japan

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