By Bruce Pokarney, Oregon Department of Agriculture
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oregon exports into South Korea have greatly expanded following the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) of five years ago. The potential of Oregon wines and craft beers is starting to be realized in a country that has developed a thirst for imported alcoholic beverages. South Korea imports nearly $140 million of wine from around the world, and even though the U.S. is responsible for only about $20 million of that total, it’s still significant.
Five years ago, I visited Shinsegae, a large upscale department store in Seoul that also sells food and beverages. Pre-KORUS FTA, there were no Oregon wines to be found in Shinsegae’s well-stocked wine section. Now, several Oregon wines can be located without much effort. Granted, the price is still steep (A 2012 pinot noir from Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards in Dundee goes for more than $100 a bottle) and the Korean consumer is more apt to look for more affordable products. But as the tariffs continue to tumble, Oregon wines are more often on the shopper’s radar.
“The free trade agreement is driving down the tariffs, and that has helped,” said Shawn Kim, who works for the State of Oregon’s Korea Representative Office in Seoul. “People who know and love wine know all about Oregon pinot, which is still more expensive than many other wines in the Korean market but is priced more competitively than it was five years ago.”
Oregon is on everyone’s map when it comes to craft beers. South Korea is no exception.
“Rogue was one of the first American craft brewers to enter the Korean market,” notes Sang Yong Oh, senior marketing specialist at the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Seoul. “They have a very solid foundation for their export business to Korea because they were ahead of others. I think Rogue is a very good example of how American suppliers can benefit from the export opportunity in Korea by being active in Korea.”
The key for a craft brewer seems to be supplying enough volume to satisfy the demand. There is plenty of competition from beers exported by other countries, but Oregon can be a big player in a market where it’s trendy to ask for an imported craft brew.
It will be interesting and exciting to see how many more Oregon products might find a home in South Korea over the next couple of years.
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