With the trade deal now scrapping an 18 percent tariff on frozen French fries and other potato products, potato exports to South Korea are expected to rise by at least $35 million this year.
Matt Harris, assistant executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission in Moses Lake, Wash., said that getting rid of the tariff will make it easier for the U.S. to compete with growers in Canada, China, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
But he said its impossible to predict what the agreement will mean for Korean consumers because most of the frozen potatoes are sold to retailers in the food-services industry. On average, the commission estimates, 87 percent of the states potato crop is sold to processors who convert them into fries, chips and mashed potatoes.
Its going to be a free market, Harris said.
Cantwell predicted that the pact will lead to lower prices.
I would assume that thats why people do it, she said, adding that eliminating the tariffs will make it easier for South Korea and its rich environment of consumers to buy the states popular products.
Theres a lot about Washington state thats already known in Korea. I think people view our agriculture products and things theyve been able to access very positively, she said.
Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire said she plans to visit South Korea later this year to commemorate the new agreement and to explore and develop new business ties for the state. She said the pact is great news for Washington state and called South Korea one of our most important export markets. Officials have been awaiting the March 15 implementation date since it was announced last month by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk after a final round of negotiations over the long Presidents Day weekend.
Kirk predicted the pact will create tens of thousands of export-supported jobs with better wages.
The pact will make nearly 80 percent of U.S. exports of industrial products to South Korea duty-free, including aerospace equipment, agricultural equipment, auto parts, building products, chemicals, consumer goods, electrical equipment, environmental goods, all footwear and travel goods, paper products, scientific equipment and shipping and transportation equipment.
And nearly two-thirds of U.S. exports of agricultural products to South Korea will become duty-free, including wheat, corn, soybeans for crushing, whey for feed use, hides and skins, cotton, cherries, pistachios, almonds, orange juice, grape juice and wine.
Its been a long time coming, said Ryan Pennington of the Seattle-based Washington State Wine Commission, a state agency that represents grape growers and wineries.
Pennington said South Korea already is one of the most promising markets for Washington wines. His office is fielding more inquiries from large Korean importers and retailers looking to add more of the states wines to their portfolios.
Wine consumption there is already very good, and the taste for wine by consumers is already very developed, Pennington said. So theres an existing network of trade to plug into very quickly.
South Korea is the fourth largest export market for Washington state goods, taking in $1.4 billion worth of agriculture exports from the state last year.
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