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MAFRA has set the goal of achieving USD$8.1billion in K-Food exports in 2016Interview/Lee Jun-won Deputy Minster Food Industry Policy from MAFRA

Exports play a crucial role in sustaining the Korean agricultural food industry. Last year, the export volume recorded was USD 6.1 billion and this year, it is expected to increase to USD 8.1 billion. The Korean government is developing various policies to expand the scale of exports by supporting both exporters and farm producers. Korea Agrafood has obtained 2016 agricultural food export information directly from the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, Mr. Lee Jun-won, who is responsible for the ministry’s food export policies.

AgraFood: Based on their excellent quality, Korean agriproducts have been gradually expanding their market share in the world. What shall be done to further increase their standing and export volume in the global market?

Lee Jun-won: In 2015, Korea exported agrifoods worth about USD 6.1 billion, which makes the country 40th in the world in terms of agrifood export volume. Expansion of Korea’s economic sphere through the conclusion of FTAs (Free Trade Agreements), advancement into new markets, and the Hallyu (the Korean Wave) phenomenon have contributed to the annual growth averaging 10.5 percent for the last 10 years. The rising interest of foreigners in Korean food culture is a valuable opportunity for Korean agrifoods. To make further progress, we certainly need to find new items with a good export potential. In addition, more effort is necessary to adjust the flavor of bibimbap, kimchi, red ginseng, and other promising foods so that it matches the preferences of foreign people.

AgraFood: China’s food market is rapidly increasing and emerging as a key target for Korean exports. What agrifoods are garnering attention in China and what items are likely to succeed in the market in the future?

Lee Jun-won: Since China ended the one-child policy and started implementing the two-child policy from last year, the baby food market is considered the most lucrative. Most of baby snacks produced in China are made with flour as a main ingredient, so we anticipate that Korean rice processed foods for infants will have good prospects in the Chinese market. Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), introduced to the Chinese through Korean TV dramas, is another promising item for export because currently, Chinese tourists regard it is a must-eat food on their visits to Korea.

AgraFood: The Korean government and export enterprises have been taking great pains to revitalize the stagnant Japanese export market. Are there any visible changes in the purchasing pattern of Japanese consumers in regard to Korean fresh farm products and other agrifoods?

Lee Jun-won: If we look at the reasons for the decline of exports to Japan, the main factors have been the rapid changes in consumption trends, as the Japanese are interested in novel things, and the inability of Korean exporters to respond to those changes appropriately. Fortunately, Japanese distributers are still placing high expectations on Korean food, so the most urgent task is to find new food products that can increase sales. Korean perilla oil and bell pepper are attaining success due to the emphasis on their health benefits and beauty functionality. When it comes to makgeolli, we should put effort into meeting the demand for new products such as premium makgeolli and fruit-flavored makgeolli.

 AgraFood: Diverse marketing strategies are required to raise awareness of the excellent quality and high value of Korean agrifoods. Can you tell us about major promotional events for agrifood export that will be organized by the Korean government this year?

Lee Jun-won: This year, we are exploiting a wide range of marketing tactics to raise the competitive edge of Korean agrifoods in the global market. First of all, we are planning to host K-Food Fairs in primary target markets such as China, Southeast Asia, and Halal markets. The fairs will let us carry out promotional and sales events for Korean agrifoods in a comprehensive manner. In addition, we are going to participate in 56 food exhibitions for the purpose of creating new overseas trade accounts and advertising Korean food products. Yet another plan is to set up and run antenna shops to test the potential of top Korean products in China, Indonesia, the Middle East, Poland, and other new markets. Finally, we will invite leading foreign buyers of agrifoods for consultations and continue promotional activities online and through mass media. 

AgraFood: Food safety management is emphasized as a major task in the government plan for strengthening the competitive edge of exported agriproducts. What steps are being taken in that direction?

Lee Jun-won: Compulsory pesticide residue testing before fresh farm products are exported overseas prevents the occurrence of issues related to pesticide residue. In the case of exports to Japan, the Korean government ensures that farms and export organizations are equipped with a safety management system of a certain standard so that they can be registered with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. We have requested that certain criteria be met for those pesticides that are not registered in the food hygiene standards of major importing countries. In the future, the government agencies involved in safety management will invite groups of experts to provide comprehensive consulting services to farmers and exporting organizations.

AgraFood  leehw@agrinet.co.kr

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