The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) announced an enhanced initiative to address the impact of non-science-based import regulations on U.S. beef exports to South Korea and help regain what was once the No. 3 export market for the U.S. beef industry.

USMEF will utilize $1 million in competitive cost-share grant funds awarded to it last week through the USDA's Market Access Program (MAP) to augment its current efforts to increase sales of beef and beef products in Korea. USMEF will also seek an additional $10 million in MAP funding this year to implement a five-year strategy to further expand U.S. beef exports to Korea.

"The U.S. meat industry has faced unprecedented and unscientific technical barriers to trade that, in the name of food safety, have unnecessarily restricted U.S. exports," said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. "These new resources will enable us to expand and intensify our efforts with a goal of the complete restoration of the beef market in Korea."

South Korea was the United States' third-largest beef export market in 2003 prior to the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.S.  Korea imported 246,595 metric tons (543.6 million pounds) of U.S. beef valued at $815 million that year. In the seven years since then, Korea has imported a total of 253,738 metric tons of product, with much of that coming in 2010.  Export levels in 2010 still remained below half of pre-BSE levels.

The initiative announced today is an important step in USMEF's long-term strategy to reach out to key stakeholders in Korea and provide the necessary resources to build Korean consumer confidence in U.S. beef, educate consumers and retailers about U.S. beef safety assurance and inspection systems, promote science-based decision-making and the adoption of international standards to facilitate trade, and deepen understanding of the science behind the rules adopted by international standards-setting bodies.

As part of this process, USMEF is developing the framework for a five-year, $10 million campaign targeting this key Asian market. USMEF will seek additional funds for this strategic plan from USDA's MAP program through its 2012 fiscal year Unified Export Strategy market development application.

"This integrated strategy will support and complement the ongoing efforts of the U.S. government to convince Korea as well as governments throughout North Asia to open their markets to U.S. beef on the basis of science-based international standards," said Seng.  

Seng added that the proposed free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea will dovetail perfectly with this enhanced initiative. The goal is to help the U.S. regain the position as the No. 1 imported beef in Korea, reaching and potentially exceeding the peak imported beef market share of 68 percent attained in 2003. Once approved, the FTA will reduce duties on U.S. beef from 40 percent to zero over 15 years, making it more affordable for a broader range of Korean consumers.

USMEF and USDA have collaborated through USDA's MAP program since USMEF was established in 1976 to improve market access for U.S. meat and meat products internationally. In 2010, USMEF virtually matched the MAP fund support dollar-for-dollar with funds contributed through beef, pork, corn and soybean checkoff programs and membership dues. By virtue of its relationships with international business partners (importers, retailers, food service, etc.), USMEF was able to further supplement the MAP funds with extensive third-party contributions to support USMEF programs. Those third-party contributions alone amounted to 132 percent of total MAP funding.