DENVER – Heralded as a monumental breakthrough for US beef and pork exports, the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement features tariff relief in the agreement. It will also provide a level playing field for US products and make them accessible to a much wider range of consumers, said Philip Seng, US Meat Export Federation president and CEO.

Currently, imported beef is taxed a 40 percent duty in South Korea, but the agreement will phase the duty rate on US beef down to zero over 15 years. Imported pork is generally subject to duties ranging from 22 percent to 25 percent, but most duties on US pork will be eliminated by 2016. Seng is hopeful the Korean National Assembly will ratify the agreement within the next few weeks.

“I am hopeful it will be ratified on Korea’s end very soon ... there’s a divisive debate going on, but I think the FTA will go forward in South Korea and hopefully in the not too distant future,” Seng iterated. “The overall impact of the FTA is monumental from the standpoint it’s the largest agreement we’ve had since the NAFTA [North American Free-Trade Agreement] was done in the early 1990s. The ramifications of the tariff reductions is really where the fruit of this, as far as the red meat industry is concerned. Again, the fact that all of us will be on a level playing field in the very near future is very encouraging.”

Seng also said the FTAs with Panama and Colombia are equally important, noting that USMEF has intensified its marketing efforts in Latin America and recently added a new director (Jessica Julca, based in Lima, Peru) specifically to serve the Central-South America region. Over the next five years, the tariff relief included in the Panama and Colombia agreements is expected to add $35 million in US beef exports and $25 million in pork exports.

“The Latin American economies are growing,” Seng said, “and even though there’s been this global recession, we’re seeing growth in those areas. We’re very excited when we take a look at the opportunities we have in Panama. We have opportunities for pork and beef. Over the summer we conducted a seminar in Panama that actually attracted people from South America. So there’s interest in our products. MEF is doing more; were stepping up. We hired Jessica Julca who’s in Peru. As a result of these FTAs, we’re going to intensify the specific activities geared to these individual markets.”