President Obama has directed the U.S. Trade Representative to launch new talks with the South Korean government to resolve issues holding up a bilateral free trade agreement.

Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative, said in a news release that he has been directed to initiate discussions with the Korean Minister of Trade Kim Jong-hoon, and have those issues, including a disagreement over U.S. beef exports, settled by November, when the President will visit Seoul to attend the next G-20 meeting. The President would submit the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement to Congress following that meeting.

“We look forward to finalizing ways to address these concerns, level the playing field for U.S. workers and producers in the key sectors of autos and beef,” Kirk said.

The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement was concluded by the Bush Administration in June 2007 but has been held up under Democratic leadership in Congress and until now had not been top priority for the Obama Administration.

“It’s encouraging to see that this has been moved to the front burner,” Joe Schuele, spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, told Meatingplace.

The National Beef Cattlemen’s Association along with other industry groups, called the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement a “critical trade deal.”

The U.S. beef industry would reap $15 million in new tariff benefits in the first year alone, the association noted, with some $325 million in tariff reductions per year upon full implementation.¬† The deal would cut Korea’s current tariff from 40 percent to zero over 15 years. U.S. beef exports to South Korea totaled $815 million at its height. The the National Beef Cattlemen’s Association said the free trade agreement could push the value of the market to $1 billion.

South Korea is expected to hold new beef talks with Canada next month. Just last Friday China announced it is opening its borders to imports of Canadian beef.

Meatingplace reported that industry groups also have been pushing Congress to move forward on free trade pacts with Colombia and Panama.

“For each day Congress delays in approving the Colombia [Free Trade Agreement], American exporters overall pay $2 million in unnecessary tariffs,” the National Beef Cattlemen’s Association said.