The chances that US beef will once more be available on the South Korean market looked even more likely yesterday when South Korean vice agriculture minister Lee Myung-soo said there would be formal talks on the matter in mid-January.

According to media reports, Myung-soo said talks would comprehensively examine the scientific logic and risk management in dealing with mad cow disease. US imports of beef are currently banned in the country over fears of Mad Cow disease.

A report by Associated Press quoted Myung-soo as saying: "The talks are not going to be about give-and-take, but to ascertain whether eating US beef is safe or not."

If talks are successful, experts believe the US could start exporting beef to South Korea by the middle of 2006.

Similar talks are expected over the importation of Canadian beef.