The United States and South Korea are trying to resolve beef and automobile issues blocking U.S. congressional approval of the free trade agreement awaiting implementation, according to Reuters. President Barack Obama has indicated he wanted the issue resolved by the time he goes to Seoul for a summit Nov. 10.
Approval of the agreement is seen as crucial to the U.S. pork industry. According to Dermott Hayes, Iowa State University economist, U.S. pork exports to Korea could eventually reach $870 million per year. Current levels are about $215 million per year.
The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS, requires Seoul to phase out its 40 percent tariff on U.S. beef over 15 years. However, when the deal was struck, Seoul still had not completely lifted a ban on U.S. beef imposed after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease in the U.S. cattle herd in 2003.
In the hope of winning U.S. congressional approval of KORUS, the South Korean government agreed in April 2008 to allow imports of all cuts of U.S. boneless and bone-in beef but the deal caused a political backlash in South Korea.
In June 2008 the two sides confirmed a "voluntary private sector" arrangement allowing South Korean firms to import U.S. beef produced only from cattle less than 30 months old, considered to be safe from BSE.
Some U.S. lawmakers, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, still want South Korea to accept all cuts of U.S. beef, irrespective of cattle age.
Ford Motor Company and many lawmakers say the 2007 pact does not do enough to dismantle South Korean "non-tariff" barriers that they believe have long kept American autos out of that market. They were upset when the administration of former President George W. Bush agreed in the deal to immediately eliminate a 2.5 percent tariff on most South Korean cars and to phase out the duty on larger-engine cars over three years.