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U.S. and South Korea Talk Beef

The two countries began talks Monday to sort out an issue central to a bilateral free trade agreement.

The U.S. and South Korea began talks Monday in an effort to sort out South Korea's rejection of U.S. beef shipments and the future of trade between the two countries.

The two countries are hoping to finish a bilateral free trade deal by the end of March, but Washington has made it clear that such a deal is unlikely unless South Korea makes significant moves towards reopening its market to U.S. beef.

After South Korea lifted its ban last year on U.S. beef, put in place in late 2003 due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy concerns, the country rejected every subsequent shipment of U.S. beef, citing the presence of bone fragments and toxins that did not meet South Korea's standards.

Seoul says it will adjust those standards, a key move in keeping the free trade talks alive. The two countries also have to make up ground in other key sectors, including agriculture. South Korea does not want to include its rice market in a free trade deal. Agriculture Minister Park Hong-soo says that if the U.S. presses on rice, South Korea can not guarantee a trade deal.

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