South Korea has taken a major step to ending an eight-year-old ban on imports of Canadian beef, Canada's agriculture and trade ministers said on Friday.

The South Korean Parliament ratified import health requirements for Canadian beef under 30 months of age on Friday, one of the final steps to ending the ban, the ministers said in a release.

South Korea is the last major beef-importing country to agree to lower its restrictions on Canadian beef, since a 2003 case of mad-cow disease (BSE) in Canada.

This has been a long journey and today's announcement is a big step forward for our hard-working beef producers to once again bring their world class product to the South Korean marketplace, said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Canada is the world's third-biggest beef shipper and in 2002, prior to the ban, South Korea was Canada's fourth biggest beef market.

South Korea also initially banned U.S. beef but later allowed in U.S. beef within the 30-month age limit.

Canada complained about South Korea's ban to the World Trade Organization, but suspended its case earlier this year after South Korea said it would resume trade by the end of 2011.

The WTO case remains suspended pending South Korea's final steps to reopening trade, which include issuing a list of approved Canadian beef exporters, Ritz and Canada Trade Minister Ed Fas t said. It expects South Korea to complete the final steps in early 2012.

Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a human health concern as it is believed humans can get a similar fatal brain disease by eating infected parts from cattle with the disease.