WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea will go into effect on March 15, five months after approval by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Trade Representative announced on Feb. 21.

When the agreement takes effect, nearly two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports to Korea will become duty-free, creating landmark opportunities for the U.S. agriculture industry.

For U.S. food-grade soybean producers, the agreement will mean access to the South Korean market for the first time outside of the import monopoly created by the Korean State Trading Enterprise, said the American Soybean Association (ASA). The implementation of the agreement will also trigger the gradual elimination of tariffs on refined soybean oil over five years and the elimination of tariffs on crude soybean oil over 10 years.

“This free trade agreement creates landmark opportunities for soybeans and other U.S. agricultural exports, including meat and poultry,” said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Nebraska, U.S. "Trade agreements that significantly improve access to foreign markets for these products are a main focus of ASA’s efforts in Washington, and we appreciate the efforts of the administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and USDA in seeing the free trade agreement with South Korea enacted next month.”

Soybeans and soybean products are the largest U.S. export commodity, totaling nearly 1.5 billion bushels in 2011, with a value of more than $22 billion. In that same year, South Korea imported $362 million worth of soybeans and soy products from the U.S., making it the eighth largest U.S. soybean export market. South Korea also purchased $1.2 billion in meat products from the U.S. in 2011, making it a large and growing market for U.S. meat producers.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) said it was pleased to see movement on the agreement.  

“Full implementation of all three free trade agreements that were passed by Congress last October will help support thousands of jobs throughout America,” said Chad Blindauer, chair of NCGA’s Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team. “Developing new markets for our country’s agricultural products is vital to producer income and also helps our sector lead the nation in economic growth and international competitiveness.”

South Korea is the U.S.’ third largest corn market and is a potentially important market for distiller’s grains. Imports of U.S. corn for feed, as well as distiller’s grains, will now be guaranteed to enter duty free immediately. The U.S. exported 241 million bushels of corn to South Korea in marketing year 2010-11.