South Korean negotiators have agreed to begin importing U.S. beef on a limited basis again, following a two-year ban. South Korea imposed the ban due to fear of mad cow disease, but fear continues to stand in the way of a full resumption of imports.

South Korean agriculture officials say they are ready to make U.S. beef available to consumers here once again - but with limitations.

Kim Chang-seob is director of the Livestock Bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture in Seoul.

Kim says South Korea will partially lift the ban by resuming imports of products from cattle less than 30 months old, excluding ribs and other parts that include bone.

An advisory panel of the South Korean Agriculture Ministry says there are no decisive grounds to declare U.S. beef unsafe for consumption - and it says a full resumption of imports may be possible in the future.

South Korea banned U.S. beef imports in December 2003, after the United States announced its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy - more commonly known as "Mad Cow" disease. The infected animal had been imported into the United States from Canada.

Mad Cow disease has been linked to a potentially fatal, brain-wasting condition in humans called variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

Friday's announcement may start to put South Korea back on track to becoming the world's third largest export market for U.S. beef, as it was at the time the ban was imposed. The country imported $880 million worth of U.S. beef in 2003.

Japan, previously the world's largest importer of U.S. beef, partially lifted its own ban last month. Tokyo, however, limited imports to cattle under 20 months of age.