As the United States/South Korea free-trade agreement approval is expected to be finalized in the coming months, the U.S. Meat Export Federation is expanding and intensifying U.S. pork promotions aimed at Korean consumers, importers and meat industry professionals.

U.S. pork exports to South Korea have grown in recent months, in part because of the damage to Korea’s domestic pork industry caused by foot-and-mouth disease and related tariff reductions on imported pork implemented to help ensure that Korean consumers have a stable and affordable supply of pork at a time when food inflation has been a serious issue there.

“We know firsthand the potential that Korea has for U.S. pork exports,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and chief executive officer. “While FMD has been a tragedy for the Korean pork industry, resulting in the culling of more than 3.3 million hogs – about one-third of the domestic herd – it has created an opportunity for U.S. pork to fill the need in this market with high-quality product.”

The intensified USMEF pork campaign in Korea is getting a jump-start with a $240,000 grant of National Pork Checkoff funds from the National Pork Board. USMEF is looking to supplement that with expanded funding through USDA’s Market Access Program, which USMEF would then match with funds from organizations and third-party partners in the international marketplace.

“South Korea is an extremely important market for U.S. pork producers,” said Danita Rodibaugh, USMEF chair-elect and a pork producer from Rensselaer, Ind. “The United States currently supplies 27 percent of the imported pork going into Korea, but there is aggressive competition from Canada, Chile and other nations, and this campaign will help establish a more consistent identity for U.S. pork.”

The pending U.S./Korea FTA is critical to help U.S. exports to Korea, including pork, 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. Spain, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Denmark are among more than a dozen E.U. nations that export pork to Korea.

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

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

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

U.S. pork exports to Korea are divided into three primary categories: processors, retailers and foodservice (hotel, restaurants and institutional), and the campaign will address each area.

In 2010, the United States exported 86,991 metric tons (191.8 million pounds) 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.

Source: USMEF