“We will spare no effort to support agricultural exports and to let the world know about the safety and excellence of Korean agriproducts,
so that everyone can enjoy Korean food.”
Mr. Kim Jae-soo, who was appointed as the new CEO of Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corp. (aT) in October, 2011, started public service in 1977. He had assumed several important posts before ascending to the position of vice-minister in the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF). He is a recognized expert in the field of agricultural distribution and food. His international business acumen can be evidenced in the fact that he worked as an agricultural attache in the Korean embassy in the US for four years beginning in 2003. We met Mr. Kim and asked him to tell us about agricultural export strategies and his vision.
High Quality and Safety are the Keys to Exporting Korean Hansik is the Best Match
to the Worldwide Trend
for Healthy Lifestyle
Great Prospects for Globalization of Hansik
The export of Korean agriproducts trended upwards amid the worldwide economic downturn last year. What do you think are the reasons for this splendid record?
I think it is the result of the combined efforts made by the government pushing ahead with aggressive export-supporting policies, farmers who produce high-quality and highly-safe produce, and agriproduct export companies with go-global mindsets. In addition, we can attribute growing exports of Korean agriproducts to the fact that the Chinese and Southeast Asian markets are growing in size. They are not that far away from our country and have similar food cultures to ours. And I can point out yet another reason: the recent K-Pop craze spreading through the US and the European continent has led to increasing interest in Korean cuisine.
In my understanding, you’ve shown a special interest in the globalization of Hansik (Korean food). What’s your take on this?
As the number of obese people is rising and the population in many countries is aging, the trend towards healthy foods is emerging worldwide. Interest in the so-called “Slow Food” is growing particularly strong. And I think Korean food with its highly developed fermentation characteristics - such as kimchi, various pastes, and makgeolli (Korean rice wine) - is perfect to follow this health food trend. Pierre Gagnaire, a renowned French cook (also nicknamed the “Picasso of Food”) once extolled Hansik as a well-balanced healthy diet.
Now, what we have to do is to make continued efforts over the long run to captivate the taste buds of foreigners. To this end, both the government and the private sector must take a long-term view and cooperate in upgrading Korean restaurants abroad and nurturing Korean food experts. As part of the effort, we are planning to open Hansik culinary classes at Drexel University in the US and Yangzhou University in China.
You visited SIAL China, the Shanghai international food exhibition, last November. How was the atmosphere there, given that the exports of Korean agriproducts to China and Southeast Asian countries were recently increasing hugely?
Reflecting the Hanryu (Korean culture wave), the Korean pavilion was more crowded compared to other countries’ pavilions. Korean makgeolli in particular drew a huge attraction, which resulted in US$3m worth of potential export contracts. Also, a contract worth of US$12m per year for exports of Korean mushrooms was signed. China is the second-largest importer of Korean agriproducts followed by Japan. As the Chinese income level is on the rise, the number of Chinese people who seek safe, high-quality food has been increasing. For this reason, Korean agriproducts have a great potential to be exported to China. With this in mind, we plan to target the markets of China and its neighbors.
Exports of Korean Sauces, Dried Flavored Seaweed, Ramen, and Ice-cream to the US Market are Promising
Cooperating with Overseas Big Distributors and Holding Large Scale Sales Promotions for Korean Foods
After the Korea-US FTA takes effect in 2012, I imagine the US market is expected to feel closer to us. Which Korean items do you think are promising in the US market?
Currently, the US import tariff on agriproducts is 9.4 percent on average. Therefore, I don’t think there will be an immediate expansion of Korean agricultural exports after the Korea-US FTA. But the exports of some Korean food items such as sauces, dried flavored seaweed, ramen (instant noodles), and ice-cream - with tariffs relatively lower than fresh produce - are expected to rise. Among these items, doenjang (fermented soybean paste), gochujang (red pepper paste), and other sauces like BBQ sauce have been classified into the item category whose tariff will be immediately abolished. As a result, the demands for these items are expected to increase in the local supermarkets. And as for the dried flavored seaweed, we, in collaboration with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), are making some dishes made with this product more agreeable to the tastes of local people. Korean seaweed, which is considered to be a low-caloric diet food, will get greater attention from Americans whose concerns about obesity have reached a socially worrying level. So, once the tariff on the seaweed (6 percent) is eliminated, the exports will soar.
What do you think are the competitive edges of Korean agriproducts?
First of all, in terms of food safety and quality, exported Korean agriproducts meet the global standards. Behind this are the cutting-edge technologies and thorough quality management systems. The safety of Korean produce has been proven as it was able to be exported to Japan, notorious for its rigid food safety standards. Some examples include paprika, which applies an advanced production-traceability system; and Magic Rose, a Korean cultivar, which was developed with Korea’s state-of-the-art technology.
Could you elaborate on the projects on which the aT is focusing in order to expand the export volume of Korean agriproducts?
To attain the goal of agricultural exports of US$10b for this year, an unremitted marketing-support system will be used fully throughout the year. The aT will often hold large-scale sales promotion events in collaboration with large overseas distributors under the MOUs with aT. And we will seek out new items that have a potential to be mass exported and focus more on them.
Also, we will promote Korean food culture by utilizing the popularity of Hanryu, including the recent K-Pop craze. For this we plan to work together with famous Korean stars.
What do you say to the aT staff in charge of supporting exports?
First and foremost, “hone your business acumen and be creative!” Secondly, “increase the efficiency by focusing and making correct choices!” And, last but not least, “listen to the voices on the spot!”
Any words you’d like to address to overseas buyers and local consumers as the head of Korea’s agricultural export organization?
Korean agriproducts are thoroughly managed from the very first step of production. Only safe, high-quality ones are exported so that they can win continuous trust from buyers. Many Korean foods including kimchi, ginseng, pastes, and citron tea are wholesome foods highly suitable for the worldwide health-conscious diet trend. We have been making many efforts to increase the food safety level of Korean agriproducts by attaining international quality certifications and applying the traceability system. We hope you will take more interest in reliable Korean agriproducts.
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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