January 16, 2004



New Zealand Ready To Increase Beef Supply To South Korea


New Zealand is ready to increase beef supply to South Korea following the mad cow disease case in the United States, New Zealand Ambassador to Korea David Taylor said.


During an interview to discuss his outlook for 2004, Taylor said New Zealand's high standards for food safety are global benchmarks, meaning that the country is in a great position to fill the void left by U.S. farmers.


"When mad cow disease happens anywhere it's a tragedy and it's something that no country wants to see. But we pride ourselves on our standards and are recognized as having particularly clean, safe beef products," said Taylor, who took over as ambassador in April 2002.


The South Pacific country's beef exports to Korea have increased rapidly in recent years, jumping from 17,500 tons worth $38 million in 2002 to 24,000 tons worth $59 million in 2003. New Zealand was South Korea's third largest source of imported beef last year, behind the U.S. and Australia. Taylor believes that while many Koreans are avoiding eating beef now, there are signs that demand for New Zealand and Australian beef products will pick up.


The biggest issue is being able to meet that demand because most supply arrangements are organized well in advance, he said. "I know that the industry is trying to scurry around at the moment to see what is possible."


Regarding other sectors, the ambassador said New Zealand Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton will lead a forestry delegation to Seoul in February, hoping to build on the already strong foundations for collaboration in the industry.


Local conglomerate Hansol has been involved in a massive cooperative project with Maori developing 10,000 hectares of forest in the East Cape of New Zealand's North Island, and there are several other smaller investment projects in the area.


"We have what is known colloquially in New Zealand as a 'wall of wood,' a huge volume of timber, and we are looking for people who can work with that and make the most of that resource," Taylor explained.


Despite this, South Korea's trade deficit with New Zealand has narrowed over the past few years, with Korean technology becoming increasingly popular among New Zealanders, Taylor pointed out.


"What we are getting is the latest and greatest of Korean innovations coming into New Zealand," he said.


Korean exports are now equal to about 80 percent of its imports from the nation of 4 million. The ambassador said New Zealand is keen to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with Seoul, but he admitted that the strong resistance of Korean farmers to a similar agreement with Chile indicates this may be some way off.


New Zealand believes that South Korean tariffs on products such as honey and butter are unreasonably high, Taylor said, while the tariff on beef remains at about 40 percent even after liberalization.


The two countries completed a feasibility study on forming a FTA in 1999 but negotiations have since stalled.


"Our message has basically been, we are ready to negotiate when you are. I hope that the relationship between Korea and New Zealand will continue to go from strength to strength."


However, while large numbers of Koreans continue to choose New Zealand as a destination for study or vacation, immigration is on the decline after a tightening of requirements for English language proficiency, Taylor said. Approved residency applications peaked at nearly 2,400 annually but the numbers have begun to dip since the immigration policy was revised in December 2002.