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BOB MOON: The top of the news sounds a bit like a commodities roundup — and now let’s get to the meat of the story. You might have heard about the massive protests in South Korea over American beef. Many South Koreans fear U.S. beef isn’t safe, after a breakout of mad cow disease back in 2003 halted exports. Well, the crisis may be coming to an end. South Korea’s president replaced 9 of 10 senior cabinet officials today and apologized on national TV for mishandling the issue. At the same time, trade negotiators meeting in Washington were closing in on a new U.S. beef deal. Marketplace’s Dan Grech reports.
DAN GRECH: In 2003, South Korea was the third-largest export market for U.S. beef.
But a mad cow breakout shut down exports. This April, South Korea said it would finally lift the ban. That prospect had U.S. beef producers salivating.
Then a firestorm of protest in South Korea tabled the issue. Jeremy Russell is with the National Meat Association.
Jeremy Russell: It’s an important market because Korea right now has the highest prices for beef in the world. So it’s a market where we could actually sell some product — if it were open.
The U.S. and South Korea may be close to a deal that would allow imports of U.S. beef that’s younger than 30 months old. Many South Koreans believe that younger cattle are less likely to have mad cow disease.
Jim Herlihy is with the U.S. Meat Export Federation:
Jim HERLIHY: So we’re looking to find a point where we can reach agreement and to help reestablish trade.
But these protests are more than a beef with U.S. beef. It’s dissatisfaction with the new president and a growing protectionist sentiment.
Donald Gregg is former U.S. ambassador to South Korea. He says most South Koreans are descendants of farmers.
DONALD GREGG: They have this sentimental image of what life on the farm is like, and they do not like the idea of the crashing in to Korea of foreign imports that will devastate the traditional way that grandpop and grandmom have made their living for generations.
Despite the protests, the South Korean government still plans to implement new U.S. beef standards next week.
I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.
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