The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), which is strongly supported by an ad hoc coalition of U.S. companies and agricultural and food organizations, received a bipartisan endorsement from eight former secretaries of Agriculture.

In a letter to members of Congress, Bob Bergland, John Block, Mike Espy, Dan Glickman, Mike Johanns, John Knebel, Ed Schafer and Clayton Yeutter urged lawmakers to vote to approve the trade pact's enabling legislation, saying, "it is imperative that the KORUS FTA be implemented as soon as possible."

"The KORUS FTA will offer enormous new opportunities for our products in a market that is large and growing," added the secretaries, who pointed out that the deal will boost U.S. agricultural goods entering South Korea duty-free to $3 billion from about $14 million now.

"The KORUS FTA is a tremendous deal for the U.S. pork industry and many other industries, and we're very grateful that eight former Agriculture secretaries support the agreement," said Sam Carney, a pork producer from Adair, IA, and president of the National Pork Producers Council, which is one of the 61 coalition members. "This deal will increase our pork exports as well as the exports of many other U.S. goods, bringing America great economic benefits and thousand of badly needed jobs. Those former cabinet members recognize the value and importance of this FTA."

The Korean market is now the fifth largest for U.S. agricultural exports, valued at $3.9 billion in 2009. According to an economic analysis conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the KORUS FTA would expand those exports in a wide range of commodities, resulting in $1.8 billion in additional sales - a 46 percent increase - and 14,000 jobs.

The former Agriculture secretaries said American farmers can compete with anyone in the world if given a "level playing field." But they won't have one in South Korea without the KORUS FTA, they wrote, pointing out that many other countries have completed or are negotiating trade deals of their own with the Asian nation.

According to USDA, the U.S. currently accounts for 30 percent of Korea's agricultural imports, but that is down from almost 45 percent in the mid-1990s.

"We have already seen our market share in Korea decline [because of other countries' FTAs]," the secretaries said. "That trend can be reversed and, indeed, can only be reversed, through the KORUS FTA."

[To read the former Agriculture secretaries' letter, visit www.nppc.org.]