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Colorado Farmers Press for US-Korea Free Trade Deal

Photo by Kirk Siegler
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar and Senator Mark Udall presented Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo a John Fielder Colorado book and a six pack of Fat Tire at CSU's Denver Center.

The lifting of tariffs and quotas of pork products coming into Korea from the US would have a direct impact on Brett Ruttledge’s bottom line, in the form of about $10 more per head for the price of one of his hogs. But there’s just one problem for Rutledge, who farms in Yuma on the northeastern plains, a free trade agreement between the two countries is still pending.

"It was signed in 2007, and here we are in 2011, maybe we’re 60 days away, I hope, but I’d like to get this thing done, I mean $10 a head is a lot," Ruttledge said.

Rutledge and a few dozen other farmers and agricultural officials were at an agricultural trade forum in Denver organized by Senator Udall that included the Korean Ambassador.  Most in the room expressed frustrations about the continued delay, especially when Ambassador Han Duk-soo noted that his country is set to begin implementing free trade agreements with Canada, Australia and the European Union starting July 1.

"One of the states that will benefit most, will be the state of Colorado," the Ambassador said.

Korea is now the state’s fourth largest importer of Colorado farm goods.  Senator Udall, who shared the stage with the Ambassador and Ag commissioner John Salazar, acknowledged there have been hold ups in ratifying the agreement.

"There are some concerns about fair and full access to Korea’s markets when it comes to our beef," Udall said.

Udall's colleague, Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) and others have argued the current agreement doesn’t adequately expand access for US beef, because following a mad cow scare in the US in 2003, Korea only buys meat from younger animals. 

Senator Udall said he’s hopeful issues like those can be resolved within the next few weeks, and that Congress will ratify the free-trade agreement within 60 days.    

If not, farmers in Colorado and across the US worry they'll begin losing out to Canada and the other countries with trade agreements already finalized.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.