For the first time in history, domestic blueberry producers will be moving product to South Korea. All eyes are focused on Oregon, the first and only state in the United States to have executed such a fresh market agreement.
"This is one of the most highly anticipated, highly prepared market entry projects that I've seen in my 28 years at the Oregon Department of Agriculture," said Dalton Hobbs, assistant director. "We think the industry is ready and capable of meeting the requirements. But we are being very careful to make sure every aspect of this protocol is complied with. We want to make sure the first shipmentsof our blueberries are free of trouble and that we establish a record of full compliance from the first shipment onward. It's like the old line: You don't get a second chance to make a first impression."
Bryan Ostlund, Oregon Blueberry Commission administrator, and Jim Cramer, ODA Commodity Inspection Division administrator, have been two of the key players involved with the agreement. "This has the potential of being a significant opportunity. The cautionary note is, 'If everything goes well,'" Eric Pond, Oregon Blueberry Commission chairman, said in a statement.
Packers and producers are equally enthusiastic. "This will be the first year we will be able to ship to Korea from Oregon. We are excited about the opportunities of this new market," Mark Hurst, managing director of HBF International, told The Produce News.
Mike Klackle, part of blueberry sales team at Curry & Co. in Brooks, OR, said the agreement is unprecedented. "This has been 11 years in the making," he said. "The interest level is very high."
According to the Oregon Blueberry Commission, packers and growers must allow their facilities to be inspected to ensure South Korean food safety and phytosanitary standards are being met under the terms of the agreement. Growers must install systems monitoring the spraying for certain pests, and packers and growers must establish chain-of-custody programs facilitating product traceback to packers, growers and production fields.
According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, nine Oregon blueberry packers have been certified to participate in the 2012 export program.
The current tariff of 45 percent is expected to be phased out in 10 years.
According to ODA International Trade Manager Amanda Welker, South Korea is the number one market for frozen Oregon blueberries.
Last September, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba embarked upon a two-week trade mission to Japan, South Korea and China. "These three markets are pivotal to Oregon's export economy, particularly for agricultural products," Ms. Coba said of the mission.