OTTAWA  - South Korea has lifted a 9-year ban on Canadian beef, becoming the last big Asian market to do so after a 2003 mad cow (BSE) outbreak, Ottawa announced Friday.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Ed Fast said in a statement, starting today Canadian beef under 30 months of age can re-enter the South Korean market.

"For the first time in nearly a decade, Canadian beef can be exported again to what was our fourth-largest market, South Korea", he said. Following Canada's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in May 2003, South Korea banned Canadian beef and beef products.

Ottawa emphasized over the years that Canadian beef was safe and that there was no scientific basis for the ban, and eventually requested a WTO panel to review it.

Canada's trade minister last year also pressed his South Korean counterpart on the issue, pointing out that South Korea was the last holdout to readmitting Canadian beef.

The Canadian beef industry estimates that this restored market access could mean more than Can$30 million for Canadian producers by 2015 -- half the level it was at before the ban.