Iowa officials hope to increase trade with South Korea

BY ALECIA BROOKS | JUNE 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Even though it’s thousands of miles away, Iowa officials say the Hawkeye State and South Korea are closely linked.

For instance, South Koreans have recently been dealing with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, forcing farmers there to kill one-third of their hog herds. That hog deficit has led to greater pork exports from the United States to South Korea.

Iowa leaders, including Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, are working in Seoul, South Korea, this week to strengthen trade relations with the Asian nation. They will stay in South Korea until Thursday and then visit China later this week.

Iowa officials are urging Congress to pass the pending Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, making way for more exports from Iowa to South Korea.

The trade agreements will produce an estimated 5,000 new jobs in Iowa, according to a press release from the governor’s office. Expanding trade will hopefully contribute to Gov. Terry Branstad’s goal of establishing 200,000 new jobs and increasing family incomes by 25 percent over the next five years, officials in the governor’s office said.

Iowa leaders held a conference call from South Korea to discuss the 41-member Iowa delegation’s trip — which includes representatives from Iowa Workforce Development and agricultural industries.

Reynolds said the agenda includes seminars and meetings with South Korean ministers of politics, economics, business, and agriculture. The Iowa officials also met with U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stevens, who received a call-to-action letter drafted by Branstad and five other governors. It urged the Obama administration and Congress to pass three pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

Northey said competition and relevance have added urgency because other countries and groups — such the European Union and Chile — have established trade agreements. He also said other approaching events, including the political elections, could trump Congress’ interest in trade agreements.

Other events on the schedule included a reception with potential and existing customers and a meat-industry luncheon, Reynolds said.

“It really was an opportunity for us, along with the Iowa Beef Association and the Iowa Pork Association, to thank the customers that are located here in South Korea and to have a dialogue about how we can increase trade and to build relationships,” she said.

The trip is “intense” but “productive,” said Debi Durham, the director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

“Certainly, elevating international trade and investment is absolutely the right strategy for Iowa and the nation and is an essential component for creating and sustaining jobs,” she said.

Some members of the group also met with the top Vice Minister Jae-Soo Kim of South Korea’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. They discussed recent issues in South Korea that have affected Iowa producers, Northey said.

Aside from the potential economic boon, Ed Greiman, a cattle farmer from Garner, Iowa, and the president of Iowa Cattleman’s Association, said South Korean consumers have some of the same goals as Iowans.

“These are people looking to add protein to their diets,” he said. “South Korea just can’t provide that for their population, so the country will need to import beef.”

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