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New deal with South Korea opens trade markets

Tue., March 20, 2012, midnight

South Korean activists wearing masks of U.S. President Barack Obama, center, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, right, and former President late Roh Moo-hyun open bottles of champagne to celebrate the free trade agreement with the United States during a rally in Seoul, South Korea, last week. (Associated Press)
South Korean activists wearing masks of U.S. President Barack Obama, center, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, right, and former President late Roh Moo-hyun open bottles of champagne to celebrate the free trade agreement with the United States during a rally in Seoul, South Korea, last week. (Associated Press)

End of tariffs will boost sales

WASHINGTON – More frozen french fries, beef short ribs and wine may be heading to South Korea from Washington state under a new trade agreement that went into effect last week.

The agreement lifts tariffs on such products as potatoes, wheat, beef, sweet cherries and wine, to a country that is already Washington’s fourth-largest export market.

“The export market right now is a bright shining star for agricultural products, especially beef,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.

The free trade agreement is the first of three; Panama and Colombia are next. It phases out the 40 percent tariff on beef over 15 years. The American Farm Bureau estimates Washington state beef exports will rise by $7 million a year.

Some beef products that aren’t as popular in the U.S. are big sellers in South Korea – such as liver, short ribs and tongue, Field said. “This is an opportunity for those products to achieve a much higher price and value overseas.”

Potato farmers also are winners. Last year, Washington exported about 87 percent of its 9.8 billion pounds of potatoes in the forms of french fries, chips and dehydrated potato products, said Matt Harris, assistant executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission.

The agreement immediately ends an 18 percent tariff on frozen potato products and will phase out a 30 percent tariff on fresh potato products. That gives Washington’s potato industry a better chance to compete against Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Harris said.

Since the 1990s, Washington has exported cherries to South Korea in small volumes – about 1 percent of the state’s total cherry exports, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Last year, the state shipped about 7 million pounds to the Asian nation, a record, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers.

It’s too early to estimate what eliminating the 24 percent tariff will do to cherry exports, Thurlby said, but growers hope for some immediate increase because prices will come down in South Korea.

“Cherries sold for about 10 dollars per pound in the past in Korea, and it’s quite expensive,” he said

The agreement also eliminates a 15 percent tariff on wine and a 1.8 percent tariff on wheat. The wine exported to Korea is about 5 percent of the total production in the state, but there’s potential for growth, said Ryan Pennington, public relations director of the Washington State Wine Commission.

“One of the things that makes South Korea unique for the Asian market is that they have a relatively diverse cuisine, such as various vegetables and beef,” he said. “This lends itself well to Washington wine, specifically, because we offer a diverse choice to satisfy the consumers.”

Phoebe Zhang is a graduate student in the University of Missouri Journalism School Washington, D.C., Reporting Program.


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