The Republic of Korea has decided to only inspect a sample of U.S. pork exports, rather than 100% of them, and to lift a ban on U.S. live hog imports. The restrictions were imposed following the H1N1 Flu Outbreak Virus.

“South Korea’s decision is good news for U.S. pork producers,” says National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Don Butler. “NPPC has been working closely with U.S. and foreign government officials to terminate all remaining H1N1 restrictions on U.S. hog and pork exports. Korea is a top market for U.S. pork exports and an important destination for swine breeding stock. Our producers are enduring very difficult financial times, and the removal of these restrictions by Korea is appreciated.”

U.S. pork producers have lost nearly $4.5 billion or more than $21/hog marketed since September 2007 – resulting from high production costs mainly due to feedgrain prices and restrictions on U.S. pork and hog exports fueled by fears of the novel H1N1 virus.

In 2008, South Korea was the sixth-largest market for U.S. pork, with exports valued at $284 million. Breeding stock exports last year were valued at $1.1 million. Through the first five months of this year, pork exports to Korea slid 10% in volume and 7% in value.

NPPC observes that South Korea’s decision to lift pork trade sanctions will mean the U.S.-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement needs revisiting.

“This is the single most important free trade agreement (FTA) ever for the U.S. pork industry, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new export sales,” Butler says. “We need Congress to approve this free trade agreement with South Korea as soon as possible.”

Under the FTA, tariffs on all frozen and processed pork products will be eliminated by 2014 and fresh, chilled pork will be duty-free 10 years after implementation. U.S. pork products currently face up to 25% tariffs.

The trade breakthrough resulted in part from cooperative efforts between the NPPC and Pork Checkoff to boost U.S. pork exports.