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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian pork industry groups called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday to push ahead with free trade talks with South Korea, fearing Canada will lose sales to rival meat exporters such as the United States and Chile.
South Korea, which was Canada's fourth-biggest pork export market in 2009, is particularly hungry for meat imports in the wake of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease that has forced widespread slaughter of its livestock herds.
Canada, however, lags some other top pork shippers in liberalizing trade with South Korea.
In the United States, the Obama administration said on Monday it was ready to begin final talks with Congress on a bill to implement a free trade deal with South Korea, while Chile has become a major pork supplier after concluding its own free trade agreement, said Jim Laws, executive director of the Canadian Meat Council.
South Korea is phasing out its pork import tariffs, which range from 22.5 percent to 25 percent, over 10 years for the United States and European Union, which will give them a price advantage over Canadian shipments, several pork organizations said in a press release.
"We cannot wait for the elusive comprehensive, high-quality agreement to revive from its coma," said Edouard Asnong, chairman of Canada Pork International, which promotes Canadian exports.
Canada is the world's third-biggest pork exporter, but progress has slowed on free trade talks with South Korea due to an ongoing dispute over beef shipments.
"There are outstanding issues with Korea which we are working hard to resolve so that our beef and pork producers have both timely and profitable access to the Korean market," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, said in a statement to Reuters.
"I know that the prime minister considers this free trade deal as an important file, which is why he has raised it personally with the South Koreans."
Harper has also intervened directly in other trade disputes, and last summer won a promise from China to reopen access to Canadian beef.
South Korea and China were among many export markets that closed their borders to Canadian beef after the discovery of mad-cow disease on a Western Canadian farm in 2003.
South Korea is the only remaining major market to stay closed and Canada has complained about its stance to the World Trade Organization.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway