The OIE announcement this week that the U.S. is a controlled-risk nation for BSE is encouraging news, says Phil Seng of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. However, he cautions that Japan, South Korea and other countries won't open overnight to U.S. beef. Each country has processes and procedures in reopening their markets, he says.

"We're probably not going to see countries change and open up overnight and release or relax some of their controls. It will be a process, but this really does help fortify our effort to get to where we want to be as far as BSE is concerned."

Seng says U.S. beef exports are up about 14% for the first three months of the year in both volume and value, a trend that will likely continue. The Japanese audits of U.S. beef plants that will conclude this week have gone well. That could lead to Japan relaxing it's 100% testing policy of every box of U.S. beef. That, combined with Japan's admission that the two alleged cases of BSE in cattle less than 30 months of age were false, should be very positive for U.S. cattlemen, he says, adding that he anticipates exports to Japan could double by August.

Meanwhile, Yonhap News quoted South Korean government and industry sources this week as saying the OIE designation is expected to pave the way for South Korea's import of U.S. bone-in beef. Currently only boneless beef from U.S. cattle less than 30 months of age is eligible for export to South Korea.

U.S. beef accounted for 75% of all beef imports before Seoul imposed a ban in late 2003, with ribs making up a sizeable part of the package. Today, almost 80% of exports into South Korea is controlled by Australia.

"Once the ruling becomes official on the last day of the OIE's general assembly slated for Friday, we expect Washington to call for immediate talks to discuss South Korea's current import guidelines," a official at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said.

The unidentified official said no date was set for the talks but that a revised import rule could be reached relatively quickly because Seoul had gone through the eight-point import risk analysis checklist with the U.S. in 2005. The risk check is a prerequisite to any import decision and includes such steps as conducting on-site inspections and issuing export permits to meat processing companies, the report says.