Getting past beef

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Getting past beef

The government finally announced terms for resuming U.S. beef imports, a final administrative step before reopening the market. Now that the process is finalized, U.S. beef will be in local markets next month.

The latest announcement was not perfect but it included revisions that fix some of the problems made in the original agreement. The government reaffirmed its right to ban U.S. beef imports upon the outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States, in an effort to address a major source of frustration among the Korean public. It also clearly stated that all U.S. beef imports will be subjected to the same safety standards as beef for domestic consumption in the United States.

The safety terms announced today cannot last forever. If there is a change in circumstances, the government can ask for revisions anytime. And the government has already promised it would ask for a negotiation with Washington depending on how the U.S. treats other countries importing U.S. beef, like Japan and Taiwan.

Also, Seoul and Washington have been actively exchanging ideas and opinions through a wide variety of channels, meaning we can change clauses that are not in line with international standards any time. We believe that the U.S government and beef farmers will not stick to faulty safety standards if the Korean public’s health is at stake.

In retrospect, the Korean government has made a series of mistakes throughout negotiations and the intense public outcry. Now all we want from the government is to make a clean exit from this debacle. The first step can be coming up with solid, reliable measures for the future. Two of the foremost tasks will be requiring all beef sellers to state on their product labels where the beef is from and establishing a firm system to allow consumers to track which channels the beef has gone through. It also has to take good care of local beef farmers squeezed by skyrocketing feed prices and sliding cattle prices.

Now it is time for us to snuff out the candles and regain our composure. The public’s negative sentiment toward the beef deal should not be taken advantage of by those who seek to disrupt the government. The government first needs to increase communication with the public as President Lee Myung-bak promised in his latest address. A trust once betrayed will hardly be restored without a lot of effort. The only solution for the government is kneeling down in front of the public and seeking their understanding. That will quell the public outrage.
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