A U.S. decision to relax its own restrictions on beef imports is expected to affect South Korea and other nations with regulations on American beef, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
"We anticipate these changes could convince other countries to remove any remaining restrictions on U.S. cattle and cattle products," Lyndsay Cole, the official at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), told Yonhap News Agency.
In early November, the agency affiliated with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans to remove its own animal import regulations, instead following rules set by the World Organization for Animal Health, known by the French acronym OIE.
Restrictions on beef imports will be lifted if a country is found to have a "negligible risk" for mad cow disease, a status determined by the OIE.
It would open the U.S. market for EU beef, which has been closed since 1997 amid concerns about mad cow disease, formally bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
"The existing U.S. regulations with regard to the importation of live bovines and bovine products were not consistent with the OIE guidelines," she added. "This final rule will bring USDA's BSE import regulations in line with international standards, which call for countries to base their trade policies on the actual risk of cattle and cattle products harboring the disease."
Many view the Obama administration's decision as intended to facilitate negotiations with the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
It also apparently added to pressure on South Korea and other countries restricting American beef imports.
South Korea imports U.S. beef produced from cattle only under 30 months of age due to an earlier scare over mad cow disease.
It is an open secret that the U.S. hopes to export more beef to South Korea, where the issue of American beef imports is sensitive politically and emotionally.
In an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency early this year, Wendy S. Cutler, an assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan, Korea and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation affairs, said the Obama administration may seek consultations with South Korea at any time on the beef trade matter.
South Korean officials are concerned about a possible request by the U.S. government on the matter.
"We are closely monitoring relevant situations, while scrutinizing the U.S. measure this time," the official at the South Korean Embassy in Washington said, requesting anonymity.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a chairwoman on the Senate panel for agriculture, also described the latest U.S. measure as a "crucial" move in prompting other countries to lower their own trade barriers in this area.
Japan relaxed its restrictions on imports of U.S. beef early this year, reverting back to the industry standard of allowing cattle up to 30 months old from 20 months.
Taiwan maintains a ban on imports of beef from cattle older than 30 months. (Yonhap News)