Washington wheat farmers are among those urging the Trump administration to keep a trade treaty with South Korea, which is one of the top markets for their product.
Along with other farm groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and members of Congress, the Washington Grain Commission and the Washington Association of Wheat Growers say the administration shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize a good relationship.
“It’s a very stable market,” said Glen Squires of the grain commission. “It’s consistently one of our top three. When you start seeing things like disrupting trade, that concerns us.”
The administration already may be backing off from its comments late last week that it could pull out of the long-standing Korean-American trade agreement, known as KORUS. In Mexico this week, where he is discussing possible changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters the focus would be on continued negotiations rather than pulling out of KORUS.
“We have a negotiation where we would like some amendments to the Korean agreement,” Lighthizer told the Financial Times.
That’s good news for a market that Washington has developed for almost half a century, Squires said. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of Washington wheat sales to South Korea.
“It’s an unbelievably sophisticated market,” he said. The South Koreans buy some hard red wheat for bread, but mainly soft white for cakes and cookies, and to blend with other wheat flour for noodles.
Washington ports shipped about $2.2 billion worth of wheat and other grains to South Korea last year, second only to about $4.1 billion in airplanes and aviation supplies, state Department of Commerce figures show.
South Korea is the state’s fourth-biggest importer, and has traded fourth and fifth position with the United Arab Emirates for the past 10 years.
As for North Korea, the Commerce Department shows no trade of any kind with that nation. Squire said farmers have tried to donate wheat in past years, but the North Korean government generally doesn’t accept food supplies.