U.S. farm officials pressed South Korea at talks in Seoul on Thursday to open its market fully to American beef and resolve a long-standing dispute between the two nations that has also threatened a separate free-trade deal.
The talks, which end on Friday, come on the heels of a decision by South Korean officials last week to temporarily suspend imports of U.S. beef following the discovery of banned spinal material in a shipment.
South Korea had banned U.S. beef imports following an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States in 2003.
This year, U.S. beef returned to South Korean store shelves, but Seoul allows only meat from cattle under 30 months of age, under the condition that parts it deemed risky, such as bones, were not included.
Both sides are expected to focus on how far South Korea could roll back those restrictions, a South Korean agriculture official said.
U.S. lawmakers have said they may not approve a sweeping bilateral free trade pact the two countries struck earlier this year if South Korea, once the third-largest overseas market for U.S. beef, does not allow in more American beef imports.
The United States has said its product is safe. South Korean officials have indicated they are ready to bend and reopen a market once worth $850 million a year to the U.S. beef industry.
"It may be unavoidable that we will import U.S. beef based on international standards," the Agriculture Minister Im Sang-gyu told a radio program on Wednesday.
In May, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which sets guidelines for animal health and meat safety, gave the United States a "controlled risk" status for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.
The OIE says deboned beef from cattle under 30 months of age is safe, and with appropriate precautions in a controlled risk country, beef from older animals and bone-in meat can be consumed safely as well.