Beef advocates in Canada believe they have a strong case against South Korea’s restriction against imports of Canadian beef, which Canada’s federal government recently took to the World Trade Organization. The Korean ban, instituted in 2003 after bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") was discovered in Canada’s beef herd, remains stubbornly in place even after Korea lifted a similar ban, placed for similar reasons, on imports of beef from the United States.

"I think the ruling will be made in our favor," John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told "It’s the timeline that concerns me. Things are not very good in the Canadian cattle business right now."

He said arguments will be made by Canada and South Korea before the WTO in January next year, and an initial ruling will likely be forthcoming by late spring. An appeal – "there’s always an appeal" – will delay a final ruling until the end of the year. If the WTO ultimately rules in Canada’s favor, Canada will have permission to institute equivalent retaliatory restrictions on imports of certain goods from South Korean should Korea’s government still insist on the beef ban after the WTO rules. The case will be arbitrated before the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body that includes representatives from the U.S., the European Union, Brazil, Argentina, China, Japan, India and Taiwan.

Masswohl said that until the ban on U.S. beef was lifted last year, "we were doing very well with the Korean technical officials – the veterinarians, for instance. But everyone got cold feet after the market was opened to U.S. beef and there were all those protests." The protests seemed to encompass more than complaints against imported beef, he added. "I got the impression that there were a lot of things going on, and the Koreans do have a tendency to protest, it seems. They’re highly protective of their domestic agriculture even though they now have the most expensive cattle on the planet."

He said meetings with officials from the Canadian government have gone well, and that there is general confidence in Canada that the case against South Korea will be a winner. "Korea needs to be pulled along. We have a strong case and I think the Koreans know we have a strong case," he said.

He did note that Canada may need to be cautious about bringing too much to the WTO. "Just this week Canada brought another WTO complaint – against the U.S.’s country-of-origin labeling rule. That’s a big one," he commented apprehensively.