WASHINGTON — The free-trade agreement between the US and South Korea will go into effect on March 15, five months after approval by the US Congress, the US Trade Representative announced on Feb. 21.

When the agreement takes effect, nearly two-thirds of US agricultural exports to Korea will become duty-free, creating landmark opportunities for the US agriculture industry. JD Alexander, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president, said NCBA was pleased to see a smooth implementation process taking place.

“When the KORUS FTA is implemented, our competitive advantage will be secured. The KORUS pact will phase out tariffs on US beef over the next 15 years and will make US beef a more affordable and appealing choice for our valued Korean customers," Alexander said. "This may very well be the most monumental bilateral trade pact our industry has ever witnessed."

South Korea purchased $1.2 billion in meat products from the US in 2011, as it continued to be a growing market for US meat companies. The country is also a significant export market for US-grown soybeans.

Soybeans and soybean products are the largest U.S. export commodity, totaling nearly 1.5 billion bushels in 2011, with a value of more than $22 billion. In that same year, South Korea imported $362 million worth of soybeans and soy products from the US, making it the eighth-largest US soybean export market.

“This free trade agreement creates landmark opportunities for soybeans and other US agricultural exports, including meat and poultry,” said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Nebraska. "Trade agreements that significantly improve access to foreign markets for these products are a main focus of ASA’s efforts in Washington, and we appreciate the efforts of the administration, the Office of the US Trade Representative, and USDA in seeing the free trade agreement with South Korea enacted next month.”

Alexander said 10 percent, or approximately 12 million American jobs, depend on exports. He stressed that ranchers and farmers should expand opportunities to sell beef in the international marketplace because 96 percent of the world’s consumers living outside US borders.

“With increasing demand and tightening supplies, movement of the KORUS FTA should encourage cattlemen and women to think beyond the current prices for live cattle and think long term," he said. "Think about where demand is heading and look beyond the borders of the United States.

"Now is the time to retain heifers and rebuild what has now become the smallest US cowherd in more than five decades. In order to meet increasing demand, we have to have the beef," he added. "Now is the time."