S. Korea trade pact spurred big gains for U.S. agriculture, USTR says

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, March 13, 2015 - The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), which went effect three years ago this weekend,  has meant big gains for U.S. agriculture, according to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office (USTR).

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USTR today released statistics showing U.S. agricultural exports to South Korea grew 31.2 percent last year, or seven times faster than average ag export growth with the rest of the world. The total value of those shipments was $6.9 billion.

In a call with reporters, Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler cited tariff cuts and “other agricultural restrictions that were lifted under KORUS” as reasons for jump.

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Beef and dairy were some of the biggest winners. Beef export values to South Korea have grown $161 million since 2011, reaching a record $847 million last year. Dairy products grew to $417 million, with much of that growth coming from fresh cheese, where exports expanded by 575 percent during the three-year period. Last year, fresh cheese exports totaled $199 million, USTR said.

Fruits and nuts have also fared well. Shelled almond exports have grown $130 million (2014 exports: $204 million) and cherries by $76 million (2014 exports: $116 million). Wine and beer exports have also benefited, up $12 million (2014 exports: $30 million).

Overall, KORUS increased total U.S. exports to South Korea, including agriculture, to a record $44.5 billion in 2014, up 6.8 percent from 2013. Total commerce between the U.S. and South Korea has risen from $126.5 billion in 2011 to $145.2 billion in 2014, USTR said.

While KORUS has proven beneficial on many fronts, Cutler noted several implementation hurdles are still to be overcome. They include origin verification, financial services and automotive issues, she said.

USTR's presentation came as negotiators from the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations met in Hawaii to continue talks on a potential trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. South Korea is not currently in TPP negotiations, but Cutler said the Asian nation has expressed interest in possibly joining the agreement at some point.

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