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State growers want to dismantle import barriers - Korea trade talks starting

Puget Sound Business Journal, Seattle

State growers want to dismantle import barriers - Korea trade talks starting

3 March 2006

by Steve Wilhelm, Staff Writer

Washington farmers hope a possible free trade agreement will pry open South Korea’s trade barriers against such produce as apples, pears and potatoes.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced Feb. 2 that the federal government would negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement with South Korea. The talks will start in May, after 90-day consultation with Congress.

"In terms of the economic value, this free trade agreement probably has the biggest value to the state of Washington after NAFTA" (the North American Free Trade Agreement), said Robert Hamilton, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s trade policy adviser.

South Korea has fairly open political relations with the United States and is more protective of intellectual property rights than China. But it has stiffer barriers than China against agricultural imports.

South Korea essentially bars Washington apples and pears through a combination of 45 percent tariffs and a ban on imports because of alleged fire blight and coddling moth contamination.

Also, South Korea restricts importation of fresh potatoes with a 30 percent tariff and a quota limit of 18,058 metric tons. After the quota is met, the tariff jumps to 304 percent. Dehydrated potatoes are limited by a quota of 60 metric tons, after which a 5.4 percent tariff jumps to 304 percent.

"What it basically does is prohibit entry," said Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington Potato Commission.

Onions face a 50 percent tariff that jumps to 135 percent after a quota is reached. Washington wines must overcome an array of taxes and tariffs totaling more than 55 percent.

The high Korean tariffs are largely the result of pressure from the nation’s powerful farming lobby. Several categories of potential Washington exports, especially apples and pears, compete directly against fruit grown in Korea.

Were it not for the trade barriers, Washington farmers would have a market in South Korea, agriculture experts say.