State businesses hail end of Korea tariffs

By:  David Lester
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Several Washington commodity groups are forecasting increased exports to South Korea because of the free trade agreement with Korea that took effect Thursday.

Tariffs that have handicapped exports disappeared altogether on cherries and grapes, wheat and some processed potato products.

Tariffs on beef and fresh potatoes will decline over time as part of the agreement with South Korea, America's fourth largest export market worth $1.4 billion to the Washington state's economy last year, according to an announcement by Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Mark Powers, a vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, said the agreement ends a 24 percent tariff on Washington cherries.

"The elimination of the tariff will benefit growers and will benefit the Korean consumer," said Powers, whose organization represents Northwest fruit growers on trade and regulatory issues.

Apples and pears currently can't be exported to South Korea because of concerns about introduction of pests and diseases.

The U.S. Trade Representative's Office called the South Korean free trade agreement the most significant of the last 20 years. Congress approved the agreement late last year. Agreements with Panama and Colombia were also approved, but an effective date hasn't been set.

B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers and the Washington State Fruit Commission, said the region shipped a record amount of cherries to South Korea last year and expects that will improve in advance of the 2012 harvest and shipping season.

"We expect the drop in the tariff will have a tremendous positive impact on our cherry sales to Korea," he said.

South Korea is the cherry industry's fourth largest market after Canada, China/Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Northwest cherry growers exported a total of 5.7 million boxes last year, 31 percent of the overall crop.

Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association who was quoted in a release issued by Cantwell's office, called the gradual decline in the current 40 percent tariff on beef "a great step forward" for the state's producers.

The beef tariff will decline to zero over 15 years.

A 15 percent tariff on wine also ends immediately. Nearly a quarter of all Washington 2010 wine exports went to South Korea.

"This is great news for the Washington wine industry as the opportunities for wineries, both large and small, have expanded and should bring a greater variety of Washington wines to South Korea," said Shylah Alfonso, vice president of the Washington Wine Institute, in the Cantwell release.