The pressure to approve the Korean free-trade agreement pending in the U.S. Congress keeps ratcheting higher. Implementation could eventually result in Korea becoming a major export market for U.S. pork. The Obama administration wants to secure approval by the time trade talks kick off in South Korea later this fall.

Passage and implementation of the three free-trade agreements would represent an additional $2.3 billion in meat and poultry exports and creation of more than 29,000 new jobs, according to the American Meat Institute. Pork industry jobs are estimated at 10,300.

“It’s clear that the road to robust job and economic growth lies in expanding America’s export markets,” says J. Patrick Boyle, AMI’s president and chief executive officer. Boyle notes that the FTAs between the United States and South Korea, Panama and Colombia have been awaiting congressional approval for years. Meanwhile, the United States is losing market share as competitors are moving forward.

Data show that passing the FTAs could increase U.S. beef exports by $1.4 billion, pork by $772 million and poultry by $102 million. Trade numbers are based on projections from the respective commodity groups. 

The Economic Research Service projects U.S. meat exports will rise from 5.9 million metric tons in 2009 to nearly 7.1 million metric tons in 2019. “However, if we are going to realize this potential, we need to pass these trade agreements and move forward on expanding our export markets,” Boyle says.

The U.S. meat and poultry industry contributes about $832 billion to the U.S. economy, nearly 6 percent of the gross domestic product. The industry directly employs 1.8 million people, with $45.5 billion in wages and benefits. 

“With meat and poultry consumption rising around the world due to economic development and population growth, we have millions of potential customers,” Boyle notes. “But, if the United States is not there to fill their plates, other major exporting nations will.”