State exports more cherries to South Korea

Washington cherry growers have more than doubled their exports of sweet cherries to South Korea, according to a new report.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and the Northwest Cherry Growers issued the report showing that Washington has exported 368,000 boxes of sweet cherries to South Korea through mid-July, up from 171,000 boxes in 2011 during a similar time period.

Cantwell helped steer passage of the Korea Free Trade Agreement through her role on the Senate Finance Committee, according to a news release from her office.

On March 15, the free trade agreement went into effect and immediately eliminated a 24-percent tariff on sweet cherries. As a result, cherry growers in Washington have more than doubled exports of sweet cherries to South Korea.

"Exports mean jobs in Washington state," Cantwell said in the release. "That's why we fought so hard to get this new trade deal done -- to open up new export opportunities for Washington state products and to support Washington jobs."

A report released by Cantwell's office noted the ties between Washington agriculture exports and trade jobs.

Almost $13 billion in food and agriculture products were exported through Washington ports in 2010, the third largest total in the nation.

Last year, almost $16 million worth of sweet cherries were exported to South Korea, the majority of which went through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

South Korea is the fourth-largest export market for Washington state goods, taking $1.4 billion worth of agriculture exports from the state last year.

The trade agreement also eliminated tariffs on various crops important to Washington's economy, such as wine, potatoes, wheat and beef, Cantwell's office reported.

Washington wheat no longer faces a 1.8 percent tariff, which will make the U.S. more competitive in the Korean market with Australia and Canada, the release said.

As the fourth-largest producer of wheat in the nation, Washington exports 85 percent of its wheat crop each year. The American Farm Bureau estimates the state will increase wheat exports by $1.97 million per year to South Korea, the release said.

The agreement also immediately terminated a 15 percent tariff on wine. During fiscal 2010, less than 25 percent of all Washington wine exports went to South Korea. According to industry officials, wine exports could increase by as much as 50 percent.

The 18 percent tariff on frozen potato products was removed, and there will be a gradual elimination of a 30 percent tariff on fresh potato products.

As part of the agreement, South Korea agreed to accept 3,000 metric tons of fresh potatoes in 2012 from the U.S. and to increase that amount by 3 percent each year.

The agreement with South Korea also will eliminate a 40 percent tariff on beef over15 years. The American Farm Bureau estimates Washington state is expected to increase beef exports by $7 million per year. Beef production is the state's fifth largest commodity and the market for American beef in South Korea has the potential to reach $1 billion, Cantwell's office said.