Secretary of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that as a result of trade negotiations with South Korea in December 2010 by the Obama administration and agricultural groups, the stage is set for Congressional action on the Korea Trade Agreement that’s expected to expand U.S. farm exports to South Korea by $1.8 billion. Some in Congress, however, want two other free trade agreements with Columbia and Panama ratified before the Korea agreement is signed into law.

"The U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement represents an historic opportunity to increase exports, support job creation, and bolster the American economy, as well as strengthen a vital strategic alliance in the Asia-Pacific," says Vilsack. "Economic output is estimated to grow more under this agreement than from our last nine trade agreements combined. This agreement immediately eliminates duties on the majority of U.S. farm products exported to Korea and eliminates duties over time on many others, including U.S. beef.

 “KORUS (Republic of Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement) is a win not just for America's farmers and ranchers, but for millions of Americans who depend on the farm economy for jobs and wages. Congress must move swiftly to ratify the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, because if we do not act quickly and decisively, America's competitors will secure their own trade deals with Korea, and our competitors' products will achieve an advantage at the expense of American productivity."

The U.S. provided almost 30% of Korea's total agricultural imports in 2010. In fiscal year 2010, U.S. agricultural exports to Korea totaled nearly $5 billion, making Korea the fifth largest export market for U.S. farm products. With ratification of the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, more than 90% of pork exports will be duty-free by 2016. Moreover, Korea's 40% tariff on U.S. beef will be eliminated over 15 years. U.S. beef exports to Korea nearly doubled last year compared to a year earlier. Korea imported 125,000 tons of U.S. beef in 2010, a 97% increase from the year before.

Meanwhile, the Administration says that while it’s ready to ratify the Korea agreement, it needs a little more time for the Columbia and Panama agreements, according to a report from Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA). Republicans in both the House and Senate have said that this is unacceptable and have vowed not to act on the South Korea deal unless all three pacts are submitted as a package.
    

In the latest move last week, 44 Senate Republicans sent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a letter initiated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) saying that until the president submits all three agreements "we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for commerce secretary and any trade-related nominees," the TCFA report says.