Baucus acknowledges battle with White House over beef access in Korea

"We worked really hard on beef for Korea," he said.  

Baucus said he wouldn't have supported the deal without the caveat the South Korea would consider eventually allowing U.S. ranchers to have greater market access there.

The deal, which cleared Congress on Wednesday, phases out the 40 percent tariff on U.S. beef imports over 15 years.

Baucus said the plan is to continue working on expanding the age and types of beef that can be exported to Korea. 

In 2003, Korea banned U.S. beef after a case of mad cow was found in Washington state. Korea's government loosened the restrictions in 2008 to allow imports of beef younger than 30 months, presumably those at lower risk for the disease. 

Negotiations on lowering those thresholds are likely to begin in six months, with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk pressing for changes, Baucus said. 

"Kirk will be very forceful and Korea did agree, in effect — it's understood by Koreans that a request will be made and negotiations will proceed," he said. 

"I wouldn't sign off on Korea at all without that," he said. 

"I'm quite comfortable those negotiations will begin in about six months," he contined, "and they also be very fruitful and will take a lot of perserverance." 

Exports of U.S. beef hit $4 billion in 2010 and is expected to hit $5 billion this year, eventually adding $200 to a head of cattle, Baucus said. 

The NCBA said demand for U.S. beef has risen sharply in Korea, with sales exceeding $518 million in 2010 and an increase of 140 percent from 2009.

"We worked really hard to get these countries, especially Korea, to take our beef and we're now going down that road," Baucus said.