In a letter sent to members of Congress Monday, an ad hoc coalition of agricultural and food organizations commended the recent resolution on issues in a free trade agreement between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and urged lawmakers to approve the trade deal as soon as the Obama administration forwards it to Congress.

An outstanding issue with automobiles was resolved in December, clearing the way for congressional approval of the U.S.-South Korea FTA (KORUS). The agreement was signed in June 2007, more than three years ago.

The coalition letter signed by 61 groups points out that other countries are moving ahead with free trade agreements (FTA), to the detriment of the United States. For example, South Korea and the European Union have approved a trade pact that goes into effect on July 1, 2011.

“Risks for U.S. agriculture – and they are extremely serious – arise if the KORUS FTA is not implemented,” the letter states. “If this agreement is rejected, we stand to relinquish our export sales to countries that have implemented their own FTAs with Korea.”

Implementation of KORUS will result in more than 60% of existing import barriers to be removed immediately, amounting to nearly $3 billion in U.S. food and agricultural products.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates the KORUS FTA would result in $1.8 billion in additional sales to Korea, an increase of 46%. Dermot Hayes, an economist with Iowa State University, says that estimate is conservative. He forecasts increased U.S. beef, pork and poultry exports alone would total more than $2.1 billion in sales.

The coalition points out that the increased exports would create thousands of jobs on the farm, in rural communities and throughout the economy.

Failure to implement the KORUS FTA would mean the U.S. pork industry would be completely out of the Korean market in 10 years, Hayes predicts. A wide range of other U.S. agricultural exports face a similar fate.

“We can either lose jobs as our market share declines in Korea, or we can create new jobs by expanding exports to that market,” the coalition letter says.