Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Max Baucus expressed disappointment Thursday that talks to negotiate a trade agreement with South Korea have stalled, but said he supports President Barack Obama’s work to expand export markets including for Montana beef.
“Opening the Korean market to American beef is critical for Montana’s economy, which is why it is so disappointing we were unable to reach a trade agreement with Korea this week,” Baucus said in press release. “Still, it’s clear that no deal is better than a bad deal for Montana ranchers.”
Many had hoped that a trade deal could be negotiated with Korea this week while Obama was in Seoul at a Group of 20 economic powers meeting. The deal could have expanded exports of U.S. beef, as well as automobiles, to the Asian nation.
South Korea has limited its imports of U.S. beef since bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as “mad cow disease,” was discovered in the United States in 2003.
Big Sandy rancher Fred Finke, a director of the board of Montana Stockgrowers Association, said this morning the association still is hopeful the South Korean limitations will be eased.
“It would be huge,” he said.
While U.S. relations with South Korea have remained good, Finke said, the drop in beef exports to the country following the 2003 BSE discovery has been dramatic. The stage may be set to turn that around, he said.
“Science has proven we don’t have a lot of SE in America at and that U.S. beef is safe,” Finke said. “Our allies like South Korea are seeing that.”
Ariel Overstreet of Montana Stockgrowers Association reported this morning that prior to 2003, South Korea was the third-largest foreign market for U.S. beef, with an export value of $815 million
In the first eight months of this year, U.S. beef exports to the country were at $331 million. The Stockgrowers Association estimates that if South Korea would accept remaining beef products from cattle younger than 30 months of age, now excluded in the negotiated agreement, it would add $35 million to $45 million in U.S. beef exports to the country.
In a telephone press conference Wednesday, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also said he will support work on the South Korean agreement, along with agreements being negotiated with Panama and Columbia, Rehberg said the high-quality of Montana beef would increase exports for its ranchers if the agreements are reached.
“It would be a real boon to Montana,” he said.
The brain-wasting disease called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was first found in Britain in 1986. Scientists have linked the spread of the disease to cattle feed made with brain and spinal cord tissue from infected cows.
They also believe people can contract a similar fatal disease — variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — when they eat meat from cattle infected with BSE.
The United States has banned the feeding of high-risk cattle parts, as well as chicken waste, restaurant scraps and blood products to other cattle in an effort to prevent spread of the disease.
South Korea banned all imports of U.S. beef in 2003. It later resumed imports, but limited those to cattle 30-months old or younger, considered less at risk for BSE infection, following protests by South Korean citizens.
The U.S. and South Korea entered a free trade agreement in 2007 to expand trade, but neither country’s lawmakers have ratified it.
Obama has been negotiating with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to solve the trade disputes. He had hoped to announce an agreement during the G20 conference, but said Thursday his negotiators will continue to work on the issue. Obama said he wants a resolution in weeks, not months.
The sticking points on the negotiations also appear to include the negotiations on automobiles, although the issues preventing an agreement have not been named.
Baucus said in his release that U.S. beef has been certified as safe.
“Montana beef is the highest quality in the world and Korea must comply with internationally recognized standards and end its unscientific and unjustified ban,” he said.