South Korean trade delegation seeks to connect with Oregon small businesses [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.]
(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 01--South Korea is one of Oregon's largest trading partners, spending more than $1 billion annually on Oregon crops, technology and other products. Oregonians, in turn, buy $1.6 billion in Korean products each year.
Much of that commerce flows among large companies with sophisticated international operations. Han Duck-Soo, chairman of the Korea International Trade Association, visited Portland this afternoon in an effort to bolster connections among smaller organizations and to highlight declining tariffs under a new free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.
"Up to now, small businesses are not fully updated on what the FTA has for their businesses," said Han, who is a former South Korean prime minister and was the country's ambassador to the United States until earlier this year.
In a three-city visit this week, Han said he's leading a 30-member delegation that wants to connect entrepreneurs and innovators across the Pacific and educate them about falling trade barriers.
"Even small businesses should utilize this huge opportunity," he said. "It may be hard for them to know whether their products are eligible for tariff reductions."
Immediate beneficiaries of the trade agreement include James Han, who is working with a cousin in South Korea to market mud masks to customers in the U.S. under the brand Pibu Skincare.
Tariffs on his cosmetics were wiped out under the new trade agreement, said Han, a Portland businessman who's also a partner in the Mio Sushi restaurant chain. But the main driver behind the business, he said, wasn't the trade deal but a chance to market a new product to hotels and other clients seeking a do-it-yourself spa treatment.
"There was an opportunity, because the products aren't readily available here," he said. "It's widely sold in Korea."
South Korea is the fifth-biggest foreign buyer of Oregon goods, according to federal trade data. Agricultural products make up nearly half of that commerce, with Oregon farmers selling wheat, corn and -- more recently -- blueberries, to customers in South Korea.
The country has a robust economy, with a population of 50 million and gross domestic product of about $1.2 trillion. South Korea has nearly 13 times as many people squeezed onto land less than half the size of Oregon.
Oregon was the second stop on the South Korean delegation's three-state tour, sandwiched between visits to Seattle and San Francisco. Chairman Han met this afternoon with Gov. John Kitzhaber in Salem, where Han said they discussed the potential to encourage development of medical products and technologies by linking innovators in Oregon and South Korea.
And they talked about Kitzhaber leading an Oregon delegation to South Korea sometime next year.
"The governor's quite interested in putting together an Asian trip for late spring, early summer," said Tim Raphael, the governor's spokesman. He said South Korea will be a focal point of that trip.
Ivo Trummer, global strategies manager for Business Oregon, the state's economic development arm, said South Korea is a main focus of Oregon's efforts to increase international trade. South Korea has a robust consumer economy with a taste for many Oregon products.
"It is the fastest-growing outdoor and apparel market in the world," Trummer said.
Tariff barriers are falling on blueberries, wine and other products under the new trade agreement, according to Gary Roth, marketing director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Oregon blueberry shipments to South Korea nearly doubled this year, he said, to more than 750,000 pounds.
Oregon's trade relationship with South Korea made headlines last summer after generically modified plants mysteriously turned up in an eastern Oregon field. When researchers disclosed the finding in May, Korea and Japan -- the biggest importers of Northwest wheat -- both stopped new wheat purchases from Oregon.
The Oregon Wheat Commission said South Korea continued taking delivery of previously contracted wheat, and it resumed buying normally in early July, leaving only a modest impact on overall sales.
Still, it highlighted a potential disconnect between Americans' feelings toward genetically modified crops and Koreans' attitudes. This afternoon, Chairman Han said Koreans want to understand the science behind every genetically modified crop.
However, Han said that Koreans approach the subject on "case-by-case" basis, and noted that South Korean imports genetically modified corn from the U.S.
"What kind of health impacts to these products have?" he said. "This should be subject to very careful study."
-- Mike Rogoway; twitter: @rogoway; phone: 503-294-7699
(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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