Packers Set to Enter South Korea on Fresh, New Note

This summer a new page will be added to the Oregon blueberry export portfolio as packers begin shipping fresh product to South Korea for the first time.

What makes this opportunity so unique is that Oregon is the first and only state to enter into a fresh market agreement with South Korea.
Certainly no slam dunk, the export agreement with South Korea has been in the works for nearly a decade as both sides have labored to iron out the details. On this side of the Pacific, Oregon Blueberry Commission administrator Bryan Ostlund, along with ODA Commodity Inspection Division administrator Jim Cramer, have been two of the principal players involved.

“This has the potential of being a significant opportunity. The cautionary note is: if everything goes well,” said Oregon Blueberry Commission chairman Eric Pond.
Whether or not the program does go well rests a lot on the shoulders of Oregon packers and growers who will have to pass a rather stringent muster when it comes to certain conditions required by the South Koreans.

One of those conditions is that packers and growers submit to inspections of their facilities and fields to assure that South Korean food safety and phytosanitary standards are met.

Another condition is that growers participating in the program must install rigorous pest monitoring systems that tell them when to spray for certain insects. Yet another proviso is that packers and growers establish a chain-of-custody program that traces blueberry lots back to the packers, growers and fields they came from.

While it’s tough now to ascertain just exactly what impact South Korea demand will have on Oregon fresh market export sales, packers and growers are very optimistic.

Eric Pond at the one-on-one table-top session during the South Korea Trade Mission.

For one thing, said Oregon Berry Packing’s Jeff Malensky, South Koreans, whose discretionary income is growing, have already exhibited a fondness for frozen blueberries. For another, said Pond, South Koreans love fresh, Pacific Northwest cherries, “and some (in the industry) think that blueberries will follow a similar trend.”

One packer estimated that fresh blueberry sales into South Korea may even surpass those into Japan, another good customer for Oregon and Washington fruits.

Fresh blueberry shipments into South Korea should run smoothly as there are regular flights from the Northwest. No doubt the varieties that will be chosen for the roughly 10 to 12 hour flight will be those that hold up well to shipping.
“Due to the competitiveness of the market we would prefer to not disclose the specific varieties that will work best for the Korean Market but, yes, we will be using varieties that will hold up under shipping,” said Oregon Berry Packing’s Trevor Abell, one of two international salesmen for the company.

Oregon Berry Packing has selected a handful of its premium growers to take part in the first year of the program, Abell said. “(To) ensure a good experience into this new Korean market we feel it is important to hit the high quality standards to certify a bright future.”

Nine certified Oregon blueberry packers have met the requirements and been accepted in the export program for 2012. While no additional packers will be accepted this year, the opportunity will present itself again next year, said ODA international trade manager Amanda Welker.

The only real speed bump in the export program is a hefty, but diminishing, 45 percent tariff laid on fresh Oregon blueberries by the South Koreans, one that will decline to zero in ten years.

Welker said that South Korea is the number one market for frozen Oregon blueberries. “This is a huge effort for us to be moving in with fresh product.”
China, which currently allows only frozen blueberries into the country, will be next on the list for fresh market access of Oregon blueberries, Welker said.

In September of this year ODA will be hosting a trade mission to Beijing, Shanghai and also Hong Kong, the last of which imports both frozen and fresh blueberries. Any blueberry grower or packer interested in joining the group should contact Welker at (503) 872-6600. 


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