SEOUL, Mar. 5 (Korea Bizwire) — U.S. beef imports shot up significantly last year, beating Australian meat to regain its No. 1 status in the South Korean market for the first time in 14 years, industry data showed Monday.
South Korea imported 177,000 tons of U.S. beef last year, up 13.5 percent from 156,000 tons tallied in 2016, according to the figures provided by the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI).
Beef imports from Australia decreased 3.95 percent on-year to 172,600 tons last year, falling to second place in the foreign beef market in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Australia had been the leading exporter of beef to South Korea since 2004.
New Zealand came in third at 18,786 tons last year, down 16.5 percent from the previous year, and Canada came in fourth at 5,200 tons, up 15.6 percent.
The sharp rise in U.S. beef imports is attributed to the free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States that took effect in 2012.
U.S. beef had been the most popular foreign beef in South Korea up until 2003, after the country opened its beef market to foreign countries two years earlier.
The Seoul government, however, banned imports of U.S. beef in 2003 after a mad cow disease outbreak was reported in the North American country.
As mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) subsided in the U.S., South Korea resumed imports of boneless meat from U.S. cattle aged less than 30 months in 2008.
BSE is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy and fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle that may be passed to humans who eat infected flesh.
With the South Korea-U.S. trade agreement that went into effect in March 2012, U.S. beef imports have continued to rise on the back of lower tariffs and low prices compared with Korean beef products.