[Viewpoint] Open market gives boon to our pears

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[Viewpoint] Open market gives boon to our pears

While covering anti-government protests in Bangkok last month, I was surprised to find Shingo Korean pears on a fruit stand in a food market in the city’s luxurious Siam Paragon Shopping Center. They proudly nestled amid other high-priced tropical fruits like durian and mangosteen and exotic imports in the fresh fruit corner. The apple-shaped Korean pears sell at a price three times higher than competing Chinese products being sold at a market in the posh, rich residential district Sukhumvit Road 36. A vendor in the market explains Korean pears are a popular high-end fruit choice among wealthy Thais.

South Korean Ambassador to Thailand Chung Hae-moon is an avid promoter of Korean pears, which are known for their crisp and juicy flavor. When the Thai Energy Minister congratulated him on Korea’s winning bid for a multibillion-dollar nuclear reactor project in the United Arab Emirates, Chung proudly said, “We are not just good at reactor manufacturing. Did you know we are a country with a farming history of 5,000 years? You should try our pears too.” Some 600 prominent figures in government, politics and business in Thailand received a box of pears as a Lunar New Year’s gift in February from Ambassador Chung. The ambassador beamed, “it is incredible that Shingo pears gained so much popularity as an expensive exotic fruit over such a short period of time.”

Pear sales nearly tripled to 48 tons last year from 17 tons in 2008. Most Koreans do not know that Korean fruits have become exotic delights to consumers in many other parts of Asia.

In Singapore, Korea-produced melons sell like hotcakes. According to the Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation, sales of melon in Singapore surged to 109 tons last year from just 1 ton in 2008. Korea has sold $20 million worth of pears in Taiwan each year, while sales of apples doubled last year to $19 million. Korean strawberries sell quickly in Hong Kong’s fresh fruit markets. Importers say Korean fruit products excel in flavor, quality and price. Exports of fruit have more than tripled every year.

Before agricultural trade barriers started falling in Asia, imported fruits like bananas and kiwis were a luxury enjoyed by only a few people in Korea. Most families only got a taste of these fruits during anniversaries or festivities.

When Korea proposed opening the domestic agricultural market in the 1990s, it was met with street protests claiming the move would kill the local farm industry due an inflow of cheaper farm products.

But little did anyone imagine that the liberalization of farm trade in Asia would allow Korea to stage an aggressive counterattack by capturing the lucrative market for expensive fruits in Southeast Asian markets, which boosts Korea’s reputation for quality.

*The writer is Hong Kong correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cheong Yong-whan

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