GALLATIN GATEWAY (AP)
The next chairman of the Senate Finance Committee sliced into a Tbone steak here Sunday and said he cannot support a free-trade agreement between the United States and Korea, if Korea does not lift restrictions on imports of U.S. beef. “I have a beef with Korea,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., told Korean reporters who came to Montana for the fifth round of negotiations toward a U.S.-Korea trade agreement. “Our beef is the safest, highest quality in the world and Korea should open its market fully as soon as possible.” Earlier this year, Baucus invited trade negotiators to meet in Montana. He has said a free-trade agreement stands to boost the state’s agriculture. “Montana cattle producers are ready to do business,” Baucus said Sunday. The Finance Committee, which he will chair starting next month, has jurisdiction over international trade agreements. Korea closed its markets to U.S. beef in 2003 after reports of mad-cow disease in cattle originating in Canada. Restrictions eased in September. Korea now accepts beef from cattle under 30 months of age but continues to prohibit beef containing bone material. “We will have more U.S. and Montana beef in Korea,” Korean Ambassador Tae Sik Lee said Sunday without going into specifics. He said the Korean government is determined to obtain a trade agreement, and he vowed to step in if negotiations stall. Lee also thanked the United States for financial, political and military support given Korea. “We owe you a lot,” he said. The trade negotiations are scheduled to open Monday in the Montana resort community of Big Sky and end on Friday. Baucus dined on the steak at a news conference. “This is very delicious,” he said in Korean after taking a bite of the Montana-raised beef.