Canada, South Korea close to resolving beef dispute
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada and South Korea are "very, very close" to diplomatically resolving an 8-year-old dispute over Canada's beef exports, the Canadian agriculture minister said on Wednesday.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said talks have made progress as a decision from a World Trade Organization panel approaches.
"We're hoping we can do something diplomatically," he said on an unrelated conference call. "I know Korea is anxious to resolve this before there's actually a penalty attached and they lose face (by) losing at a WTO level."
A decision by the WTO is expected as early as within a few weeks, and Canada is using that as a negotiating lever, Ritz said.
Negotiations could soon get sidetracked, however, by a widely expected Canadian election campaign. Opposition parties are expected to defeat Canada's minority Conservative government over its budget as early as this week, setting up an election in May.
Canada is the world's third-biggest beef shipper and South Korea was its No. 4 market in 2002, prior to many export markets closing to Canadian beef with the 2003 discovery of mad cow disease in a Canadian cattle herd.
The agriculture minister said Canada was also close to making its first commercial shipments of beef to mainland China in eight years.
China agreed to accept beef from Canada last summer, but shipments have not yet resumed. Continued...