Korea noncommital on lifting beef bans

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 21, 2005
by WLJ
Korea has yet to even hint if, or when, it will lift its bans in place on both U.S. and Canadian beef. While Japan has moved closer to lifting its ban, sources with USDA said it appears Korean officials are waiting for a full resolution between Japan and Canada and the U.S. before they start the resolution process.
Korea did send a technical team to the U.S. last May to review and validate the findings of the International Review Commission concerning the U.S. protocols to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from infecting beef in the future.
However, a high-level USDA official that has made several trips to Korea during the past few months, told WLJ last week, that the Koreans are content to wait for Japan’s final decision on the issue of beef imports of U.S. and Canada before moving forward.
“Japan is considered (by Korea) to be the culture and society that is most thorough when it comes to ensuring the utmost in human health and economic sustainability,” the USDA spokesman said. “Once Japan decides on a resolution there will be several other countries follow, and Korea will probably be the first one, and will probably have a policy-making process started within two weeks of Japan’s final decision.”
There are a couple of factors that could slow Korea’s desire to reopen its borders to U.S. and/or Canadian beef.
The Korean government’s introduction of a traceability system in some of its retail outlets and consumers increased confidence of domestically-produced Hanwoo beef is expected to increase beef consumption in 2005. If the increased inventory allows for retail prices to drop, it would further boost the beef consumption when coupled with the economy that is slowly beginning to recover. Higher production and lower retail prices of Hanwoo beef cattle in 2005 will also help boost beef consumption in 2005.
The focus of the Korean government’s policies has been less on stimulating Hanwoo production and, more on enhancing food safety. The focus includes development of a traceability program and environment friendly livestock policies.
However, despite significant reduction in cattle prices and a sluggish economy, USDA officials said Hanwoo beef wholesale prices remain six times higher than imported beef and U.S. beef would fill a void of “reasonably priced” higher quality beef. Australia is the leading exporter of beef to Korea, however, it is mostly grass fed product that isn’t as high in quality and isn’t being highly demand by Korean restaurants or higher-end retailers.
Hanwoo products target the high-income consumer market. However, the majority of Korean beef consumers who focused formerly on reasonably priced but high-quality imported beef have now shifted to other substitute products, such as pork and fish. — WLJ