Canada, Korea near deal on beef: report

With a World Trade Organization ruling pending, Canada and South Korea may have an agreement in place by next month at the latest to reopen Korean ports to Canadian beef, Korean news agency Yonhap reports.

Citing a “government source” who didn’t want to be named, the news agency said Monday that Seoul and Ottawa have been in talks on the matter since October and have “almost ironed out outstanding differences in key issues.”

“If there are no unexpected developments, a formal agreement that would permit Canadian beef to reach local markets could be settled by April at the latest,” Yonhap said, citing the government source.

South Korea’s ban on Canadian beef dates back to the discovery of Canada’s first domestic case of BSE in 2003 and is the subject of a complaint Canada filed with the WTO in 2009.

The WTO composed a formal dispute settlement panel in November 2009 to hear the case. Ottawa noted at the time that it normally takes up to nine months from the establishment of a panel for its final report to be released to WTO members.

But according to the WTO, the panel’s chairman informed the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) in June last year that it “would not be possible for the panel to complete its work within six months from the date of the panel’s composition.”

The WTO said its panel expects it will be in a position to issue its final report to the parties “most likely by April 2011.”

The delay, the WTO said, was “due to the request by one party for a preliminary ruling and the fact that expert consultation procedures are involved.”

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