The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is calling Friday’s announcement by President Obama very welcome news that the United States and South Korea have reached consensus on a free trade agreement (FTA).

There will be significant benefits reaped under the FTA from gradual elimination of duties on pork and beef exports to Korea, according to the USMEF.

“I would like to take this opportunity to personally congratulate the U.S. negotiators for their dedication and commitment to pursuing these discussions to a successful conclusion,” says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng.

This agreement provides a good opportunity for U.S. agriculture and is great news for Korean consumers.

American Meat Institute (AMI) President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle urged Congress to ratify the agreement at its earliest opportunity. Boyle notes that South Korea is already a major market for U.S. meat. For 2010, pork exports are projected to exceed $150 million, making South Korea the fifth-largest market for U.S. pork exports.

Once the FTA is fully implemented, pork and beef exports to South Korea could increase by $2 billion and produce more than 26,700 new American jobs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the U.S.-South Korea trade pact will provide American agriculture with improved access to more than 49 million Korean consumers.

“A combination of tariff phase-outs, new tariff-rate quotas and regulatory harmonization will result in improved access to Korea’s $1 trillion economy,” Vilsack says.

“The agreement with Korea will also affirm a strong position for U.S. agriculture in Korea for decades to come. Korea already has trade agreements in place with Chile, India, and the 10-country ASEAN group, and is negotiating new FTAs with the European Union (EU), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China. The U.S. agreement with Korea will put U.S. farmers, ranchers and agribusiness on a more level playing field with competitors around the world,” he says.

But the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) says U.S. pork producers took one for the proverbial team in completing the FTA with South Korea.

“We’ve worked particularly hard the past several years to get a good deal for U.S. pork in the FTA with South Korea,” says NPPC President Sam Carney, a pork producer from Adair, IA. “We had that but to get a final agreement, we needed to give a little; we needed to take one for the team. This is still a good deal for us.”

U.S. pork producers agreed to move back the effective date on the zero tariff rate on some cuts from Jan. 1, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2016.

“With the date for a zero tariff on pork moved back, we likely will lose some market share in the South Korean market to Chile,” Carney says. “But as the lowest-cost producer of pork in the world, we’ll hold our own. We still will go to zero six months prior to the EU.”

Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes projects by the end of the FTA’s 10-year phase-in period that total U.S. pork exports to South Korea will reach almost 660,000 tons. That represents nearly twice the current U.S. export level to Japan, the top level market for the U.S. pork industry. The FTA will boost live hog prices by $10/head and generate an additional $687 million in U.S. pork exports alone. South Korea alone will absorb 5% of U.S. pork production and the FTA will create more than 9,000 new jobs in the U.S. pork industry.