S. Korea lifts U.S. hog, pork restrictions

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — The Republic of Korea’s decision to inspect only a sample of U.S. pork exports rather than 100% of them — and to lift a ban on live hog imports from the U.S. — are being applauded by the National Pork Producers Council. The restrictions were put in place in the wake of the H1N1 flu outbreak.

Don Butler, N.P.P.C. president, said South Korea’s decision is good news for U.S. pork producers. "N.P.P.C. has been working closely with U.S. and foreign government officials to terminate all remaining H1N1 restrictions on U.S. hog and pork exports. Korea is a top market for U.S. pork exports and an important destination for swine breeding stock. Our producers are enduring very difficult financial times, and the removal of these restrictions by Korea is appreciated."

Since September 2007, the U.S. pork industry has lost nearly $4.5 billion and producers have lost an average of more than $21 per hog marketed since then. While high production costs — mostly feed grain prices — are the primary reasons for the industry’s economic woes, restrictions on U.S. pork and hog exports put in place in early May by a number of countries citing fears of H1N1 exacerbated the problems, N.P.P.C. relayed.

South Korea was the sixth-largest market for U.S. pork in 2008, with exports valued at $284 million. In 2009, exports to South Korea through May were down 10% by volume and 7% in value. Breeding stock exports to South Korea also are down in 2009 because of the H1N1-related ban. The country ranked as a top destination for U.S. live hogs in 2008 with exports of $1.1 million.

South Korea’s decision to lift the restrictions will reignite enthusiasm for the U.S.-Republic of Korea Free-Trade Agreement, which contains tremendous benefits for U.S. pork producers, according to N.P.P.C., which helped secure favorable treatment for U.S. pork and pork products. When the F.T.A. is fully implemented, U.S. pork exports to the Asian nation will rise to nearly 600,000 metric tons, according to Dermot Hayes, Iowa State University economist. That’s significantly more than the amount currently shipped to Japan, the No. 1 export market for U.S. pork. Mr. Hayes also estimates that the F.T.A. will increase the price producers receive for each hog marketed by $10.

"This is the single-most important trade agreement ever for the U.S. pork industry, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new export sales," Mr. Butler said. "We need Congress to approve the F.T.A. with South Korea as soon as possible."

Tariffs on all frozen and processed pork products will be eliminated by 2014 under terms of the F.T.A. Fresh chilled pork will be duty-free 10 years after implementation. U.S. pork products currently face tariffs as high as 25%. South Korea has also agreed to accept all pork and pork products from U.S.D.A.-approved facilities.

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