Italy’s long and convoluted journey towards gaining full access to the South Korean market for its kiwifruit appears to be closer to reaching a happy conclusion, with the news that the Asian country has completed inspections of production sites in the regions of Calabria and Basilicata, and is now preparing to open its doors wider to Italian exports.
The improvement in trade relations will be welcomed by kiwifruit suppliers in Italy, who have waited since the original signing of a trade protocol back in 2012 to gain access to Korea’s market. That protocol agreement had itself taken a considerable amount of time to pull together.
However, while the news represents another major breakthrough for a country that has not been nearly so successful in terms of securing trade agreements for other products in its basket of fruit exports, the volume of Italian kiwifruit likely to be sold in Korea is not expected to soar in the immediate future.
Nevertheless, the significance of South Korea’s willingness to accept more of Italy’s kiwifruit could be seen more in the impact it has on other Asian markets.
Simona Rubbi, who is responsible for opening and developing new markets on behalf of Italian marketing and research body CSO, agrees with that assessment: “Korea is absolutely one of the most restrictive markets when it comes to fruit and vegetable imports and certainly the fact that Italy, with kiwifruit, has what is required and a suitable system to enter Korea shows that it can cope with other markets that are closed today.”
According to figures published by Comtrade, South Korea imported just over 400 tonnes of Italian kiwifruit in 2014, although this was around a third less than in the previous campaign.
What’s more, the country is far from being a big hitter in terms of its total kiwifruit imports. Last year, it imported around 23,000 tonnes of the fruit, mainly from New Zealand (17,120 tonnes) and Chile (6,240 tonnes).
Prior to today’s announcement, only one export company, Made in Blu, had been granted official approval to send kiwifruit produced by two giants of the Italian fresh produce trade – Agrintesa and Apofruit – to clients in South Korea.
The gradual opening of Korea’s market underlines the lack of reciprocity between EU countries and the rest of the world when it comes to the international fresh produce trade, Rubbi added.
“The contradictions in our trade system should be acknowledged, however. We have a very relaxed European import system that allows practically all products from all countries to enter, compared with the conditions that we have to respect in order to export to third countries,” she said.
“We are obliged to negotiate loads of conditions with destination countries and often we have to do this as a single member state and for each individual product. We then undergo strict checks by these third countries prior to shipment, something which is certainly not the case for our imports.”