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aT CEO Yeo In-hong Talks about aT’s Past 50 Years and Its Future

Yeo In-hong, who has been the CEO of aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp) since the October of last year, is a renowned expert in distribution and export of farm and sea products. He has spent over 30 years in public service, developing plans to strengthen government support for export and devising policies to improve distribution structure. On aT’s 50th anniversary, Korea Agrafood met Yeo to hear how he feels about the occasion, what he is proud of, and what the agency’s plans for the future are.

KAF: Founded as Agriculture and Fishery Development Corporation (AFDC) in 1967, aT celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Could you share your take on the occasion?

Yeo:  For aT, this is a significant year to look back on our record for the past half-century and prepare for another leap into the future. aT has been striving to stabilize the supply and demand for agricultural products, upgrade their distribution, promote exports, and nurture food industry. At every step, aT has spared no effort to help increase farmers’ incomes and contribute to the balanced development of the national economy. aT incessantly moves forward through change and innovation.

KAF: aT has played an important role in boosting the export of agricultural products. What achievements in this regard is aT most proud of?

Yeo: Our export projects went in full steam from the 1990s, as part of the country’s strategy to liberalize the market in the wake of the establishment of the WTO (World Trade Organization). They operate at all stages of the export business, from production to pioneering the foreign markets, and include the support for product development and nurturing promising items as well as the construction of infrastructure.

As a result, Korean agricultural food exports have more than doubled over the last ten years, and fresh farm products such as strawberry, mushroom, and grape are now exported on a large scale. The export of seaweed is expected to reach its first US$ 500 million mark this year. Meanwhile, we have been able to diversify the export market to ASEAN, China, and other regions, and a greater variety of products are now offered to foreign consumers.

KAF: It is very important for farmers to see the exports correlate with the increase in their incomes. Hosted by aT on October 24, a symposium designed to boost the efficiency of export support projects and develop plans to cultivate the food industry emphasized the importance of this correlation. Can you tell us about your plans for achieving an increase both in exports and in farmers’ incomes at the same time?

Yeo: Farm food exports bring the dual benefit of stabilizing the domestic price and contributing to farmers’ incomes. To enhance these benefits further, aT will upgrade its export support system starting from 2018. First of all, we will increase our support for companies that export either fresh farm products or processed food made with homegrown ingredients. We will also streamline export channels by the food item and create an integrated support platform.

KAF: Japan, China, and the US are Korea’s major export markets. What plans does aT have to increase exports to these countries?

Yeo: We pursue a different strategy based on the characteristics of each of these important markets. For the Japanese market for example, we look for and export functional food and other new products. In China, we focus on online marketing through social media. In the US, our target is the local market for ethnic foods. As part of our efforts to diversify export markets, we are trying to cultivate another strategic market in Southeast Asia, a region where the Korean Wave is in full swing and geographically close to Korea.

KAF: The first results of aT’s efforts to extend exports to emerging markets, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Kazakhstan, and Italy, are already palpable. What plans to do you have to boost exports to those countries?

Yeo: Our export market diversification project this year included developing a stable exporting system and pioneering five emerging markets starting from May. As a result, we have gained a foothold in those markets, made first shipments, and helped the exporters resolve different issues that arose in the process. Next year, we plan to diversify the products exported to those countries and expand the number of export destinations to twenty emerging markets.

KAF: If you had to choose the three most promising products that will likely lead Korea’s food exports in the next half-century, what would they be?

Yeo: Considering the growing production of vegetables and fruit in a controlled environment, such as bell pepper and strawberry, I believe their exports will increase. Seaweed is another product likely to advance further. Since the organic food market is rapidly expanding in Europe, the US, and Japan, we will reinforce our efforts to encourage Korean companies and farming households to obtain organic certification and export organic products.
 

KAF: In conclusion, can you tell us about your plan and determination to promote aT’s growth into a public organization that enjoys the love and support of farmers, fishermen, and consumers? Also, how do you envision further development of Korean agricultural and seafood industry?

Yeo: aT will do its best to continue contributing to the development of Korean agriculture and fisheries and the growth of farmers’ incomes. Our main tasks include stabilizing farmers’ incomes and supply and demand by purchasing farm produce, upgrading the distribution structure, and boosting export-oriented farming.

# Profile
Yeo In-hong was born in Busan in 1957 and graduated from Seoul National University and Korea National Defense University Graduate School. He entered civil service in 1983 by passing the higher civil service examination in technology. He worked as a planning and coordination officer at the Rural Development Administration, the Director of the National Human Resources Development Institute, a marketing policy officer and food industry policy officer at MAFRA (the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs), and the Vice Minister of MAFRA.

Lee Hyun Woo  leehw@agrinet.co.kr

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