Governor's trade mission to stop in Japan, S. Korea, China
Fresh Oregon blueberries may be destined for South Korea
A nearly two-week trade mission to three key Oregon export markets is about to be launched with a delegation that includes Governor Kitzhaber and Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. Agriculture occupies a major portion of the mission, which includes stops in Japan, South Korea, and China. The trans-Pacific trip is designed to reconnect with current customers of Oregon agricultural products as well as to prospect for additional opportunities.
"These three markets are pivotal to Oregon's export economy, particularly for agricultural products," says Coba. "Our delegation will include industry folks who have a vital interest in export development. But any time we can have the governor travel to these markets, it provides additional access and terrific opportunities for Oregon agriculture. We just can't afford to pass it up."
While the governor tends to a wider circle of Oregon economic interests, the 11-member agricultural delegation will target specific opportunities to help producers back home. A growing Asian economy and increased demand for the kinds of products Oregon can provide makes this an important and strategic 13 days. The delegation leaves September 11 and returns September 23.
The first stop is Japan, which continues to be Oregon's largest trade partner. It has been a difficult year for the Asian economic giant. As a longstanding ally, Oregon intends to show steadfast support.
"The recent triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant failure makes it very important for Oregon to re-assert and re-establish our commitment to that important marketplace," says ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs. "Having the governor go there in person and hold meetings with key officials and companies is absolutely critical in maintaining the nearly 60-year relationship between Oregon and Japan."
On the agriculture side, Japan is going to need assistance in rebuilding their food economy. The nuclear power plant failure in the north took a lot of vegetable production offline. Radiation contamination has also affected production and processing of seafood in that country. Oregon can help respond to consumer demand for these products. But the primary task in Japan will be just as much symbolic as it is old fashioned business.
"For us to come over and tell them face-to-face that Japan is still very important to us and we are there to support them any way we can, means a lot to the Japanese people and the relationship between Oregon and Japan," says ODA Director Coba.
A 36-hour stop in South Korea is packed with meetings and great anticipation for the pending Korean Free Trade Agreement, yet to be ratified by Congress or Korean officials.
"If and when that happens later this year or early next year, the trade agreement will provide a huge opportunity for a host of Oregon products," says Hobbs. "Over a five-year period, the agreement will take tariff's currently in the 30 to 40 percent range on some products and whittle them away to zero. That will make the US and Oregon very competitive with countries like Chile, that already have a trade agreement with Korea."
Among the Oregon commodities poised for the Korean marketplace are fresh blueberries. Korean consumers can't seem to get enough of processed or frozen blueberries and ingredients. A variety of packaged products rely on the popular fruit- everything from expensive tonics and teas to blueberry-flavored cough drops. The Oregon Department of Agriculture, working with US trade officials and the industry, has been gearing up for fresh blueberries to be allowed into South Korea for the first time. The result will be a huge opportunity for Oregon blueberry growers- one of whom will be part of the trade delegation.
The stop in South Korea will include a tour of the perishable foods facilities at Inchon Airport- a huge and sophisticated receiving and distribution center for many of the products imported from Oregon. The visit concludes with a reception for 100 key trading partners that will provide a great opportunity to reinforce Oregon's interest in exporting to the Koreans.
China, the last leg of the mission, is the most rapidly growing export market for all US agricultural products. Oregon first ventured into China back in the 1980s, when grass seed growers began to fill a need for a quickly developing nation. Most recently, China's double digit economic growth has allowed more consumers to purchase higher-end food products. The Chinese consumer is becoming increasingly interested in safe and wholesome food, which plays into the interests of Oregon.
"ODA has been working for a number of years on a joint relationship with the government of China to inspect and certify US food products going into that marketplace," says Hobbs. "There are still a number of technical issues we need to work out, but going over there and meeting with US trade officials and Chinese officials provides us an opportunity to continue opening the market up for Oregon agricultural products."
One item tentatively on the agenda is the signing of a memorandum of understanding between ODA- and signed by Director Coba- and the Chinese government-owned company that formalizes the joint development of a testing and certification program for agricultural products. Such certification would create smoother and greater access for Oregon producers interested in exporting to China.
Several common activities will take place in all three countries, including retail store visits that help Oregon learn about Asian consumer preference, which is very different from the US consumer. But the trade mission is mostly about establishing and maintaining relationships. There is nothing like being there in person.
"In this age of email, Skype, websites, and webinars, we find that you can't underestimate the importance of face-to-face meetings and personal contact," says Coba. "That's partly why this mission is important."
For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.
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