Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, along with California agricultural exporters, Wednesday urged Congress to approve the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement no later than July 1.
Other nations such as Australia are negotiating FTAs with South Korea, so it is important that U.S. farmers and ranchers have access to tariff reductions before competitors in other countries do, he said.
South Korea was No. 7 on the JOC list of Top 10 U.S. Trading Partners in 2010.
With a large Orient Overseas Container Line vessel providing a backdrop at the Port of Long Beach, Vilsack said the agreement would especially benefit the ports, farmers and ranchers of California. Ports in California last year handled $35 billion in agricultural exports from across the nation.
California's agricultural exports increased 30 percent over the past five years to $18.2 billion. If it were a separate nation, California would have the fifth largest agricultural economy in the world.
However, in the agricultural trade with South Korea, U.S. exporters are at a disadvantage, said Southern California farmer and former California Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura. Whereas U.S. tariffs on agricultural imports from South Korea average 6 percent, that country's tariffs on U.S. agricultural products can be as high as 50 percent, Kawamura said.
If the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement is approved, a number of U.S. agricultural products would become duty-free immediately, including cherries, raisins, grape juice, frozen orange juice, almonds, pistachios, asparagus, canned and processed tomatoes, frozen French fries, some dairy products and wine. Many of those products are grown or produced in California.
Tariffs on other products such as table grapes, shelled walnuts, carrots, lettuce, sweet corn and beef would be phased out over time.
The free trade agreement would also help the U.S. to increase its agricultural trade surplus with the rest of the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a record agricultural trade surplus of $47.5 billion this year.
Tony LoBue, founder and owner of Scott's Food Products in Paramount, Calif., said the free trade agreement would lower by 8 percent the tariffs Korea charges for his sauces and marinades. That would reduce the cost of a container load of his products exported to South Korea by thousands of dollars, he said.
USDA estimates that the U.S.-Korea FTA would produce a greater economic benefit to the U.S. agricultural industry than the previous nine free trade agreements combined. Vilsack said USDA is confident Congress will approve the proposed agreement as it has the support of business, agricultural and organized labor interests.
-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at email@example.com.