The vice-minister at MAFRA (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) was appointed as CEO of aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation) on October 4. Mr. Yeo is highly regarded as an expert equipped with expertise and knowledge in the field of distribution and export of agricultural and fishery products. Working in the government for more than 30 years, he has implemented the plan to reinforce the government function of supporting exports and devised policies for improvement of the distribution structure. Korea AgraFood has met Mr. Yeo to learn about his perspectives, ambitions, and plans for exports of Korean agricultural products.
▲Congratulations on your appointment as the CEO of aT.
It is a great responsibility to assume the position of aT CEO after working for the government in the field of agriculture for 32 years. The appointment also has a special meaning to me since I had a close relationship with aT while working in MAFRA. I will do my best to ensure that aT fully serves its role as a public organization. In addition, I will strengthen the special function of aT as an organization carrying out agricultural policies in the fields of export, distribution, supply, and manufacturing of food.
▲ In your inaugural speech on October 4, you emphasized the importance of boosting the competitiveness to promote exports of agricultural products. How do you plan to carry out your plan to increase competitiveness of Korean agricultural products in foreign countries?
The utmost priority in improving the competitive edge is to supply safe and hygienic products on a stable basis. Next, we need to discover products that meet the tastes and preferences of foreign people and pursue marketing strategies customized by the market.
Marketing shall differ depending on the market characteristics and the product in focus. In China, for example, we need to prioritize online and offline marketing for baby food and leisure food products. In ASEAN, our goal is to attract teenage consumers with strawberries and pears. Consumption of healthy food, such as perilla oil and bell peppers, has been expanding in Japan, and new functional products like Dangjo pepper are also becoming popular there, so we shall concentrate our efforts on recovering our share in the market.
In addition, we will assist Korean businesses in adjusting to changes in the market environment—opening of new markets, expansion of online and mobile transactions, and so on. We will revise offline marketing tools and connect online channels and the distribution center in Qingdao to expand exports to China.
▲ How is aT planning to achieve this year’s export goal?
MAFRA and aT have launched the “D-100 Project for Expansion of Agricultural Exports.” aT will use our agencies at home and abroad to increase exports by the end of the year, by monitoring export trends, resolving errors in the field, and maintaining a close relationship with foreign buyers. Also, by the end of this year we will raise the ratio of support for logistics expenses by three percentage points and bolster overseas marketing through K-food fairs and other projects.
▲ The Korean government and food exporters are highly interested in the Chinese market. That seems to be the reason why aT has already hosted three K-food fairs in the country this year alone. Can you tell us more about your plans targeting China?
In order to expand exports of Korean agricultural products to China, we need to resolve the quarantine issues first, since those issues make, for example, export of fruit to China unfeasible. In addition, we need to address the Chinese consumers’ concern about food safety and demonstrate the safety and reliability of the Korean products.
We should go beyond simple export of products and strengthen our base by exporting Korean food culture. To this end, aT included a kimchi-making performance and various experience activities into the K-food fair held in Wuhan City in September. We will also promote experience-oriented food tourism for Chinese visitors to Korea.
Another task is to resolve logistical issues related to distribution of frozen and refrigerated food products, using the Qindao distribution center completed last August. The center will also be linked with local online shopping malls and overseas direct-purchase websites.
▲ Many domestic agricultural products have already won the hearts of foreign consumers. If you had to choose three types of products that are most popular at the moment and three most promising ones, what would they be and why?
The products whose exports are increasing the most these days are seaweed, fresh pear, and kimchi. Exports of seaweed have consistently expanded thanks to the development and marketing of new products matching the preferences of local consumers. Fresh Korean pear attracts foreigners with its high sugar content and crunchy texture, and it is a great product for export because it does not go bad for a long time. We have recently started exporting pears to the UAE and other countries of the Middle East. Lastly, kimchi exports have risen as it has gained wider recognition around the world as a healthy food and the market has diversified reaching the US and Europe.
I believe that the future lies in the exports of high value added agricultural food products that bring together agriculture and technology, such as healthy functional food and instant food. The blood sugar controlling effect of Dangjo pepper, for example, is promising. Among the products in retort pouches, samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), a healthy representative Korean dish, is likely to succeed. Gochujang (red pepper paste), which is used as an ingredient for tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake), bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and beef) and other Korean dishes and has been adopted overseas for many fusion dishes, has a great potential. I would also like to note that aT is currently carrying out the “Miracle K-Food” project to cultivate agricultural products that can lead Korean exports in the future.
▲ Next year, aT is celebrating its 50th anniversary. You have been appointed as the CEO at this very important time. Please tell us what it means to you.
aT was established in 1967 and is approaching its 50th anniversary. I believe this is the right time to reflect on the past half-century and establish a new vision and strategy. My mission as the CEO should be to prepare aT for the next 50 years and make the first leap forward in a new direction.
I will strive to strengthen aT’s role of setting the path for implementing government policies, to attract talented young people to the agricultural industry, and to create more job opportunities related to the development of agricultural products. Moreover, I will focus on operating aT as a flexible organization that values its manpower and has on organizational culture based on performance.
Lastly, I will utilize my experience and know-how in agriculture, accumulated over the past 30 years, to cultivate foreign markets for Korean products, reform and improve the distribution system, increase farmers’ incomes, and resolve other problems facing Korean agriculture today.
The new CEO of aT, Yeo In-hong was born in 1957 in Busan and graduated from Seoul National University and National Defense Graduate School. He started his public service after passing the advanced skill test in 1983. He served as a planning manager in RDA (Korean Rural Development Administration), the Director of National Human Resources Development Institute, the Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency, Distribution Policymaker of MAFRA, the Director of Food Industry Policy at MAFRA, and the Vice Minister of MAFRA.
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