SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- The South Korean government may gradually lift all of its restrictions on U.S. beef imports despite continuing safety concerns among the public, the Korea Herald reported on Monday.
The move is aimed at winning approval from the Democratic-led U.S. Congress for the S Korea-U.S. free trade agreement waiting to be ratified by the legislators of both countries, the daily said.
Full reopening of South Korea's beef market has been cited as the key to persuading U.S legislators to pass the pact, which studies show would bolster trade between the two major trading partners.
President-elect Lee Myung-bak, who is to take office on Feb. 25, supports the deal, it said.
In the first stage, the incoming government is considering allowing previously unaccepted beef on the bone into the country, while keeping intact its restrictions on the age of cattle, the report said.
U.S. beef was banned in December 2003 in the wake of an outbreak of mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalitus, at a farm in Washington State.
Seoul partially lifted the ban in January 2006, accepting only boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months old, but suspended imports last year after bone fragments were found in several shipments.
The United States, which exported 850 million-U.S. dollar-worth of beef to South Korea in 2003, was the third-largest beef exporting nation to the country after Australia and New Zealand.