Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 11:13 UK

South Korea relaxes US beef ban

An employee prepares imported US beef at a shop in Seoul, 13 July, 2007
South Korea suspended most US beef imports after concerns about BSE

South Korea has agreed to relax restrictions on beef imports from the US, Seoul's farm ministry says.

The agreement could pave the way for US ratification of a trade deal between the two countries.

Imports of US beef will be expanded gradually, with boned cuts of beef from cattle younger than 30 months allowed in as a first step.

Seoul blocked most imports of US beef in 2003 because of fears over BSE, or mad cow disease.

Washington had made it clear the ban had to be lifted before Congress could approve a major free trade agreement with South Korea.

BSE fears

The beef deal coincides with the start of a visit to the US by the new South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak.

On his first official overseas trip, Mr Lee will meet President George W Bush at Camp David for talks expected to be dominated by the beef issue and North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

Before introducing the ban, South Korea was the third-largest market for US beef, worth approximately $850m (424m) annually.

South Korea currently imports only boneless cuts of beef from US cattle.

The farm ministry statement said US beef from cattle older than 30 months will be allowed once the US improves safety standards.

Younger cattle are believed to be less at risk from BSE.

Restrictions on brain and spinal material, which is considered to have a higher risk of BSE, will remain in place.

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