Cablegate: Rok Agriculture Minister Presses for High-Level
DE RUEHUL #1813/01 3200850
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160850Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6235
INFO RUCNKOR/KOREA COLLECTIVE
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
UNCLAS SEOUL 001813
STATE PASS USTR FOR CUTLER, YOO, and CLARKSON
USDA FOR JBREWER, SHALE, PSHEIKH, CALEXANDER, LBLUM
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ETRD EAGR PREL KS
SUBJECT: ROK Agriculture Minister Presses for High-level
Consultations and for Progress on Chicken Ginseng Soup
1. (U) This cable is sensitive but unclassified and not/not intended
for Internet distribution.
2. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador met Agriculture Minister Chang
Tae-pyong on November 4. Chang expressed his desire for a
high-level consultation process on agricultural issues. Chang
pressed for progress on the approval process for chicken ginseng
soup exports to the United States. The Ambassador raised organics
and biotechnology issues. Chang requested U.S. flexibility on
diversion of U.S. table rice for processing. The meeting also
touched on beef, the Doha Round and the KORUS FTA with the Minister
indicating resistance to re-opening negotiations. End Summary.
The Case for High-level Consultations
3. (SBU) The Ambassador hosted a November 4 breakfast for
Agriculture Minister Chang Tae-pyong, who requested the meeting.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Trade Yoo Byung-rin attended the
meeting as did Embassy Ag and Econ M/Cs. Chang expressed strong
interest in high-level consultations and increased bilateral
cooperation on agricultural issues, in part to counter what he
described as the continuing potential for anti-American sentiment
among the Korean population. Chang argued that anti-American
sentiment has been growing over the last ten years and reached a
crescendo during the candlelight protests of 2008, but had not
disappeared. He said that this anti-Americanism continued to be a
risk to both U.S.-ROK trade and the broader bilateral relationship.
He attributed the disappointing U.S. beef sales to this sentiment
and argued that high-level consultations would be helpful in
ensuring better mutual understanding. Minister Chang said this was
why he dispatched Deputy Minister Yoo to raise the idea with Under
Secretary Miller in Washington in September. The Minister concluded
by stressing that he was interested in holding high-level
consultations with the Department of Agriculture not simply to
address trade issues, but to demonstrate to the Korean public the
strength of the bilateral relationship.
4. (SBU) The Ambassador said she appreciated the concern and effort
and assured the Minister that any ROKG proposal for increased
consultations would be seriously reviewed in Washington. The
Ambassador said she believed over time Koreans would come to
recognize that U.S. beef is safe. (Note: According to U.S. Meat
Export Federation surveys, one-third of the Korean public will buy
U.S. beef, one-third will never buy it, and one-third still
undecided. U.S. beef sales and exports have increased recently due
to the weakening of the dollar in relation to the Korean and
Australian currencies. End Note).
Chicken Ginseng Soup and Foot and Mouth Disease
5. (SBU) Minister Chang pressed for progress in getting Food Safety
and Inspection Service (FSIS) approval to export chicken ginseng
soup (samgyetang) to the United States and for recognition of
Korea's status as free of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). He stated
that the market access request for samgyetang had been outstanding
for fifteen years and FMD recognition for seven years. Chang said
he had been harshly grilled earlier in the week in the National
Assembly by representatives who complained that the United States
demands immediate market access for its agricultural products, but
fails to provide access for Korean agricultural products. Chang
said the argument was starting to resonate in the National Assembly
and with the public. Chang urged the USG to do everything possible
to expedite the approval process.
6. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that Korea needed to respond to the
October 28 letter from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
(FSIS) asking for information regarding Korea's verification program
for salmonella in poultry and in regard to Korean government
oversight of corrective actions. Ag M/C added that once FSIS
received that information they could move forward with their
regulatory review process. The Ambassador reaffirmed the U.S.
commitment to move forward with the review process with a view to
realizing the export of this product to the U.S. (Note: The U.S.
commitment to conduct on-site audits and any subsequent work and
rulemaking with a view to realizing the export of this product to
the U.S. was made in the Agreed Minutes of the Korea/United States
Consultation on Beef. Thus the two issues are linked in the eyes of
the Korean government. End Note).
7. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that a letter regarding the status of
FMD recognition had recently been provided to the Korean Embassy in
Washington. The Minister indicated that he was aware of the letter.
Ag M/C elaborated that things appear to be moving in the right
direction on FMD-status.
ROKG Wants to Divert U.S. Table Rice to Processing
8. (SBU) Minister Chang described the current oversupply of rice in
the Korean market and the politically difficult phenomenon of
declining prices. (Note: The harvest estimate is now in -- a bumper
crop with record yields. End Note). He then observed that sales of
U.S. table rice at public auction were slow. He opined that further
discounting of U.S. table rice at auction could create a stigma that
it was inferior to domestically produced rice. The Ambassador
responded that the issue was discussed at the bilateral rice
consultations in September and that the U.S. was waiting for
language from the Korean side confirming the desire for a one-time
diversion of U.S. table rice. Deputy Minister Yoo stated that China
had agreed to have its table rice diverted for processing and that
it would be difficult for Korea to agree to specific language that
this would be a one-time diversion given the current market
Other Issues: Biotech, Organics and KORUS
9. (SBU) The Ambassador asked Minister Chang about whether Korea had
plans to commercialize any of the biotech crops, such as rice,
Chinese cabbage, peppers, tomatoes and tobacco that had been
developed by Korean scientists and by MIFAFF's Rural Development
Administration. The Minister stated that they did not and that
after U.S. beef, biotech was the next issue that could galvanize the
opposition and that was why Korea had proposed to implement a
mandatory labeling regime for biotech foods. The Ambassador noted
the need to use a science-based regulatory process and to avoid
disrupting markets. The Minister seemed to take the point but gave
a limited response -- that the NGOs were pressuring the Ministry.
The Ambassador also raised organics and, while acknowledging the
delay in implementation the new regulatory scheme, asked that the
Minister ensure that trade is not disrupted.
10. (SBU) On the KORUS FTA, Chang said he believed market
liberalization was good for Korean agriculture and he hoped the
agreement would be ratified soon. He added, however, that talk of
amendments for the auto trade was destabilizing for the Korean
agricultural community and that he would pay closer attention to
this issue and oppose any re-opening of negotiations.
11. (SBU) We take seriously the Minister's representations on the
continuing potential for anti-American sentiment. While polls show
that such sentiment is currently at a low ebb, experience
demonstrates that it can be fanned quickly by events. In this
regard, while continuing to press Korea for progress on our
agricultural trade interests, we would also benefit by facilitating
progress on some issues that Korea is pursuing, namely samgyetang.
We are skeptical about the utility of institutionalizing high-level
consultations on agriculture, but in the event of a request, believe
that we should welcome a high-level visit to Washington to discuss
both trade and broader agricultural cooperation.