Major South Korean discount retailers E-Mart, Home Plus and Lotte Mart resumed selling imported US beef on Thursday this week.

The retailers cited the slow economy and the prospect of offering struggling consumers lower-priced imported US beef compared with prices for Korean home-grown beef, as the major reasons for the move.

US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) president and CEO Philip Seng see Thursday's resumption of supermarket sales as a big breakthrough in regaining Korean market share for the US export beef industry.

This will bring the US head-to-head with its biggest beef import rival - Australia - in an all-out effort to win back the market share lost during the ban on US beef imports, following the US BSE-outbreaks in 2003.

South Korea was the third-largest buyer of US export beef before the ban was imposed. Extra imports from Australia have filled the gap since then.

"What we have right now in Korea is a lot of US beef that has landed there - we probably have 40,000 metric tons landed," Seng says.

"Some of this is going into the market at a very, very small rate.

"But we see this as a big catalyst to breaking the logjam open and having a lot more US beef flowing into the market."

Seng says USMEF had had success this year in promoting US beef in butcher shops and small restaurant chains that 'showed great loyalty and enthusiasm for US beef'.

But in order to grow the volume of imported US beef significantly, USMEF needed the large retail chains to participate as well.

That's what's happening now and he says this will not only grow sales at the retail level, but will also help US beef imports in other sectors of the market.

Despite Korea’s slowing economy and other current economic challenges, Seng sees improvement in the market's acceptance of US beef and thinks the US will have a very positive year in terms of beef exports to Korea in 2009.