Beef imports from the U.S. recover to half of total

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Beef imports from the U.S. recover to half of total

U.S. beef, once shunned by consumers fearful of mad cow disease, is now half of total beef imports.

According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, in the first 10 months of this year, 209,034 tons of U.S. beef were imported. That’s a 7.9 percent increase from the 193,685 tons imported during the same period a year ago.

By value, $1.54 billion of U.S. beef was imported, up 10.4 percent from $1.39 billion in the first 10 months of last year.

It is the most U.S. beef imported in the first 10 months of a year since 2003, when the Korean government limited the import of U.S. beef over mad cow disease concerns.

U.S. beef is now 50 percent of the 415,112 tons imported into the country, the first time since 2003 that it broke that level. That year, it hit 68.3 percent by volume and 75.3 by value.

In December 2003, the Korean government completely banned all imports of U.S. beef after several suspected cases of mad cow disease were reported that year.

The complete ban was partially lifted in 2006, allowing the import of meat from cows less than 30 months old and free of bones. Meat with even a bone fragment was sent back to the United States.

In April 2008, just two months after the Lee Myung-bak administration took office, the Korean government and the U.S. government reached an agreement for the gradual lifting of the regulation entirely.

After news report on mad cow disease reignited fears and inspired protests, the government limited the lifting of the regulations to cows that are less than 30 months old but with bones allowed.

U.S. beef imports plummeted to 32,446 tons in 2008.

Australian beef imports fell this year. In the first 10 months of this year, 170,582 tons of Australian beef were imported, a 1.1 percent decline compared to the previous year. After Korean consumers stopped buying U.S. beef in fear of mad cow disease, Australian beef held the No. 1 position for imported beef from 2004 to 2016.

Imports of New Zealand beef, which currently hold third place, fell 13.5 percent to 18,371 tons. At one point, more New Zealand beef were imported than U.S. beef.

One of the factors contributing to the increasing imports of U.S. beef is price as a result of the free trade agreement with the United States.

In March 2012, when the agreement went into effect, the tariffs on U.S. beef were 37.3 percent. Since then, they have fallen to 18.6 percent.

Although the tariffs on Australian and New Zealand beef are also declining, they are still higher.

Australia, with a free trade agreement from December 2014, is at 24 percent, while tariffs on New Zealand beef are 26.7 percent.

“The free trade agreement with the United States is a few years ahead of the free trade agreement with Australia,” said a KITA official. “Additionally, it seems concern over mad cow disease is lower.”

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