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Canada is dropping a World Trade Organization complaint against South Korea six months after it ended an eight-year-ban against imports of Canadian beef. (Jeff McIntosh/File/Canadian Press)

Ottawa is dropping its trade challenge to South Korea's ban on Canadian beef imports.

Trade Minister Ed Fast said Monday he has instructed officials to drop the challenge at the World Trade Organization because Korea restored access in January.

South Korea banned imports of Canadian beef after the 2003 outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called mad cow disease.

But Fast said since the lifting of the ban, more than 30 commercial beef shipments from Canada have cleared South Korean customs.

"In light of the restored access and resumption of exports since January of world-class Canadian beef to the South Korean market, I've instructed officials to work with their South Korean counterparts to terminate Canada's WTO challenge," he said in a release.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association has backed the decision and said on its website that it hoped Canada and Korea could now conclude long-standing talks on a free trade deal.

The trade department said Korea was the last major Asian market to lift the ban following the mad cow incident.

It said the industry estimates the value of beef exports to Korea could grow to $30 million by 2015.

The announcement follows Prime Minister Stephen Harper's bilateral meeting with Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the G20 summit in Mexico.