GENEVA (B)--South Korean beef import restrictions are illegal under international trade rules said the World Trade Organization June 15, backing U.S. and Australian claims.

Import quota limits are allowed, but Seoul has implemented the restrictions with extra illegal conditions said WTO arbitrators.

The additional sale and import restrictions make beef exports to Korea impossible or highly limited according to Washington and Canberra.

In 1995 Korea instituted a 123,000 tonne limit on imports of fresh, chilled and frozen beef. The quota increased to 225,000 tonnes this year, and will be removed from Jan 1, 2001. However, other sales restrictions favoring Korean beef will remain in place.

"The quota is supposed to end this year," said a trade diplomat, "and we have no reason to think otherwise, but the other restrictions will not go away."

The U.S. and Australia complained Korea's "dual retail" system discriminated against their product by selling imported and domestic beef separately at butchers' shops and supermarkets.

WTO "national treatment" rules stipulate a member government can not distinguish between imported and locally produced goods once products are on the domestic market.

"The right to impose a quota is not in dispute," said a diplomat, "but the extra duties imposed effectively support domestic producers."

The WTO report remains confidential, and will be released to all member governments and the public July 31.

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