With reports this week from the U.S. Trade Representative's office that progress is being made on the U.S. and South Korea Free Trade Agreement, there was also news that discussions are expected to begin in the controversial areas of beef, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and the like. Many believe South Korea has kept the market closed for this very reason -- to gain leverage in the critical part of these negotiations.
It's also believed that the reopening of the beef market is a foregone conclusion and is considered to be a deal breaker if not met. The belief is South Korea will simply use beef to gain advantages in other areas. If this is the case, then progress still may be a ways off, but at least one can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Fast-track authority for the President expires July 1. To meet the requirements, the President has to notify Congress by April 1 that an agreement had been reached. Thus, there's ample incentive for both sides to move quickly.
It can't be soon enough because this week South Korea announced that beef imports had increased 20% over 2005. Unfortunately, the increase has gone to our competitors.
-- Troy Marshall