South Korea announced on Monday it would hold talks with the United States on resuming U.S. beef imports, which have been banned for two years on concerns over mad cow disease.
Seoul has been under U.S. pressure to lift the ban and follow the lead of Japan, which last week eased its restrictions on American beef.
The U.S. delegation, arriving in the country this afternoon, will hold a preliminary meeting with South Korea, on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
South Korea banned U.S. beef in December 2003 following the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Before the ban, South Korea was the world's third-largest import market for U.S. beef. U.S beef accounted for two-thirds of the 300,000 tonnes imported into the country in 2003.
The country's agriculture ministry said the talks are designed to assess the safety of U.S. beef.
"After preliminary contacts, formal talks will start from early next year. But it is premature to guess when U.S. beef imports will restart," a ministry official said.
A South Korean animal quarantine committee failed last week to make a recommendation on lifting the ban, saying members were divided on the risks, leaving a decision in the hands of the agriculture ministry.
Most panel members have been in favor of declaring U.S. beef safe, but a few are seeking more safeguards, South Korean Agriculture Minister Park Hyun-Chool said last week.
Responding to the concern, the ministry will focus on whether to only allow beef from young cattle and whether importation of bovine bones will be allowed.
Japan has agreed to resume imports of beef from cattle aged 20 months or younger, while a panel in Taiwan is still discussing whether to allow imports of boneless cuts from cattle under 30 months.