DENVER – The US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is launching an expanded, intensified campaign to promote US pork to South Korean consumers, importers and meat industry professionals, in anticipation of the approval of the US/South Korea free-trade agreement (FTA) in the near future.

In recent months, US pork exports to South Korea have increased partly because of the damage to that country’s domestic pork industry caused by foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) plus related tariff reductions on imported pork.

FMD has resulted in the South Korean pork industry culling of more than 3.3 million hogs – about one-third of the domestic herd – which has created an opportunity for US pork to fill the need in this market, said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO.

This South Korean pork campaign is off to a good start thanks to a $240,000 grant of Pork Checkoff funds from the National Pork Board. USMEF is looking to supplement that with expanded funding through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market Access Program (MAP), which USMEF would then match with funds from Checkoff organizations and third-party partners in the international marketplace.

The US supplies 27 percent of the imported pork going into South Korea, but there is strong competition from Canada, Chile and other nations.

The pending US/Korea FTA is key to helping US pork exports to South Korea remain competitive. Korea and Chile approved an FTA in 2004 which is lowering tariffs on Chilean pork until they are abolished in 2014. Since 2004, Chilean pork exports to Korea have quadrupled in value to $111.5 million last year. Korea and the European Union also recently signed an FTA with Korea. Spain, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Denmark are among more than 12 EU nations that export pork to Korea.

Upon approval, the US/Korea FTA would eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of US pork products by Jan. 1, 2016. The reduced tariff on US pork exports in the first year after approval would equate to an annual duty savings of more than $3 million based on recent pork prices.

South Korea’s domestic pork industry currently provides about 72 percent of that nation’s pork, and mandatory country-of-origin labeling has given consumers who prefer the familiarity of home-grown pork an opportunity to select it over imported product.

USMEF’s intensified campaign will focus on science-based educational information targeted toward key opinion leaders and culinary trendsetters, and will reinforce the association of US pork with quality, value and excellent taste.

US pork exports to South Korea are divided into three primary categories: processors, retailers and foodservice (hotel, restaurants and institutional). Each will be an area of emphasis in the campaign.

In 2010, the US exported 86,991 metric tons (191.8 million lbs.) of pork to South Korea valued at nearly $190 million, a dip of 16 percent in volume and 12 percent in value versus 2009. In the first two months of 2011, pork exports have rebounded 143 percent in volume and 198 percent in value over the same period in 2010.