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Trade Deal Hinges on Beef

Congress is not likely to ratify the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement unless Seoul begins to accept U.S. beef again.

Trade representatives from the United States and South Korea succeeded in negotiating a bilateral free-trade deal, but it won't go into effect until Congress and South Korea's legislation ratify it - and ratification is all but guaranteed. Congress appears unlikely to back the deal unless South Korea begins to accept U.S. beef shipments again.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., spoke the sentiment of many after the trade deal was reached. "There is still no deal on the beef issue," he said in a statement, "so in my mind, there is no trade agreement."

The best hope for South Korea opening its beef market may rest on the World Organization for Animal Health, better known by its French initials as the OIE.

Wire services report that Korea has agreed to begin its process to re-open its market to U.S. beef if the OIE formalizes the U.S. status as a country where BSE is a "controlled risk." An OIE scientific panel recommended that designation for the U.S. last month, and the group's governing body is expected to take up that recommendation next month.

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