WASHINGTON – Last weekend, President Obama signaled his intention to set a deadline for removing outstanding obstacles to the implementation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (F.T.A.) to gain congressional approval of the deal in 2011. According to the National Pork Producers Council (N.P.P.C.), which has championed the pact for three years now, the F.T.A. would be one of the most lucrative ever for the U.S. pork industry. 

During the recent the G-20 summit in Toronto, the president indicated he wants the deal done by the next G-20 meeting, which will be held in Seoul, South Korea, in November. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will be responsible for working with his Korean counterpart to bring it about.

The U.S.-Korea F.T.A. was completed and signed on June 30, 2007, but it has been awaiting action by Congress on the necessary implementing legislation. That legislation has been held up by demands from some lawmakers that improvements be made to the agreement in certain sectors, including automobiles.

“Having a firm deadline for resolving the outstanding issues is a major step forward and is wonderful news for American pork producers,” said Sam Carney, N.P.P.C. president and a pork producer from Adair, Iowa. “This is what we have been hoping to hear for almost three years. The export opportunities the F.T.A. offers U.S. producers of pork and many other agricultural products in the Korean market are truly remarkable.”

By the end of the F.T.A. phase-in period, total U.S. pork exports to Korea will be almost 600,000 metric tons, according to Iowa State economist Dermot Hayes. This represents nearly twice the current U.S. export level to Japan — currently the top value market for the U.S pork industry. The F.T.A. will lift live hog prices by a staggering $10 per animal when fully implemented and will generate an additional $825 million in U.S. pork exports.

South Korea alone will absorb 5% of total U.S. pork production, and the F.T.A. will create more than 11,000 new jobs because of increased pork exports alone.

South Korea has in place or is currently negotiating 13 other trade agreements, covering some 50 countries, many of which are competitors in food and agricultural products.

Valued at $3.9 billion in 2009, the Korean market is now the fifth-largest for U.S. agricultural exports. According to economic analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Korea F.T.A. would expand those exports in a wide range of commodities and result in $1.8 billion in additional sales — a 46% increase.

Commodities that will gain immediate duty-free access to the Korean market upon implementation include wheat, feed corn, soybeans for crushing, hides and skins, cotton and a broad range of high-value agricultural products.

A number of commodities will gain free access two years after implementation. Other U.S. farm products will benefit from expanded market access opportunities through new or expanded tariff rate quotas. Market access improvements will also be seen for beef products, pears, apples, grapes and oranges.

The U.S.-Korea F.T.A. is one of three that are pending approval by Congress. Agreements with Colombia and Panama also have been awaiting action for more than three years.