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☞ Issue 111
글씨크기 크게 글씨크기 작게 기사 메일전송 기사 출력
Voluntary Export Restraint rule was rejected by U.S. ambassador last month

S. Korean gov’t did not reveal that recent VER proposal was second try at getting it accepted

  (2008/06/08 23:00)  

A recent proposal made by the South Korean government to encourage U.S. beef exporters to voluntarily restrict exports of meat from cattle older than 30 months old had already been rejected last month by Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, according to lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party who spoke about their meeting with the U.S. ambassador.

As part of its efforts to defuse public anger over mad cow disease in the wake of its decision to resume imports of U.S. beef, the South Korean government said on June 3 that it was seeking cooperation from U.S. meat companies on implementing what has been called the Voluntary Export Restraint rule. Under the rule, companies would agree not to export to South Korea beef from cattle over 30 months of age, which is considered a greater risk for the brain-wasting illness.

The GNP lawmakers held a meeting with Vershbow on May 20. The meeting was arranged when Vershbow decided to visit the office of Rep. Ahn Sang-soo, who was the GNP floor leader at the time, to seek cooperation on the beef issue. The meeting involved Rep. Lee Han-koo, the GNP’s chief policymaker, GNP spokeswoman Cho Yun-sun, Rep. Cha Myung-jin, Shim Jae-chul and Hong Moon-pyo.

At the meeting, the lawmakers made a series of proposals in an attempt to restrict imports of U.S. beef from cattle over 30 months. The proposals included: the VER rule, labeling shipments of beef exported to South Korea with information showing a cow’s age at time of slaughter and a requirement that only U.S. slaughterhouses that agreed to the labeling system be allowed to export beef to South Korea.

However, Vershbow had simply rejected the proposals, saying that it was unclear as to “how the U.S. government could be involved in contracts between private companies from the U.S. and Korea. In addition, I understand that there is no labeling system that shows the age of cattle at slaughterhouses in our country,” Vershbow said, as quoted by one of the GNP lawmakers in attendance at the meeting.

At the two-hour meeting, the GNP lawmakers were also at odds over what might constitute “scientific ground” in determining an animal’s age. A GNP lawmaker, who is an agriculture policy expert, raised a question about the United States’ system for estimating the age of a cow based on the condition of its teeth, saying, “We think the U.S. method of confirming a cow’s age by examining its teeth is not scientific.”

But Vershbow said, “The U.S. has exported beef to more than 100 nations based on the standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), but there have been no particular problems. Even if there were to be a problem, how could you take issue with it without a scientific basis (about mad cow disease)?”

Vershbow’s stubborn demeanor incited a GNP lawmaker to lose his temper as he shouted, “I have lived in the U.S. How can you continue to reject our suggestions?”

With Vershbow snubbing the proposals, the GNP leaders proposed another plan that would allow South Korean importers to sign a contract with U.S. slaughterhouses, which export beef from cattle under 20 months of age to Taiwan and Japan. In response, Vershbow said, “Although the government can’t step in, it is possible to sign such a contract among private companies.” The U.S. ambassador was quoted by GNP spokeswoman Cho.

A GNP lawmaker, who had served as a member of a GNP committee on the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, said, “The VER rule isn’t legally binding because it is a contract among private companies. The rule had already been discussed as beef talks stalled during the government of former President Roh Moo-hyun. If the government wants to resolve the beef issue with the VER rule, it will have to unveil it after finalizing the issue through closed door meetings with the U.S.”

The GNP lawmaker criticized the government for handling the issue poorly, saying, “How could the agriculture minister announce it (the VER rule) so irresponsibly when he knew the U.S. would reject it?”
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