Orlando Sentinel

U.S., South Korea settle OJ tariff dispute

- By Mark K. Matthews

WASHINGTON — A tariff dispute between the U.S. and SouthKorea over frozen orange juice concentrat­e was quietly resolved ahead of PresidentB­arack Obama’s visit to Seoul thisweek, trade officials in both countries said.

The news was welcome relief to Florida’s citrus growers, who said they’ve lost millions of dollars in potential sales since the feud began about a year ago.

“I could not be happier,” said Mike Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade group. The diplomatic breakthrou­gh “gives us another excellent opportunit­y to ship our high- quality Florida orange juice to another market.”

Obama was in South Korea on Friday as part of a four-country trip to shoreup U.S. interests in Asia. While there, he discussed how the U.S. and South Korea could ensure that the two countries fully implemente­d a 2012 trade agreement — an issue at the heart of the recent skirmish over frozen orange juice concentrat­e.

The OJ fight started last spring when South Korean officials began questionin­g whether concentrat­e made in the U.S. was derived exclusivel­y from oranges grownwithi­n theU.S.

This “purity test” is crucial because concentrat­e made from U.S. oranges alone, and not mixed with foreign fruit, is allowed to bypass a crippling 54 percent tariff in South Korea. The exemption was made possible by a trade agreementb­etween the two countries that went in effect two years ago.

Increased scrutiny in 2013 by SouthKorea­n authoritie­s, however, caused a sharp drop in sales because juice companies feared that Seoul would retroactiv­ely try to collect the 54 percent tariff on orange juice concentrat­e already sold there.

A retroactiv­e penalty would have been significan­t.

Exports of frozen orange juice concentrat­e to South Korea had nearly tripled the year after the trade agreement went into effect, spiking from$11million in 2011to $30 million in 2012, according totheU.S. Department­of Agricultur­e.

Neither Sparks nor U.S. officialsw­ere able to provide exact figures on the damage toU.S. sales. But Sparks esti-

mated the hit to be in the “millions of dollars” to Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

One reason South Korea was suspicious about the origins of U.S. concentrat­e was the close link between citrus companies in U.S. and Brazil, another major player in the global orange market. At least three Florida companies have ties to Brazil, and it’s common practice in the juice industry to blend fruits from different countries.

U.S. producers insisted that the concentrat­e being shipped to South Korea was made only from U.S. oranges, and they offered proof from federal oversight agencies such as the Department of Agricultur­e, said industry officials.

With the standoff worsening, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., invited SouthKorea­n inspectors to visit juice processing plants in Florida to verify the oranges’ origin.

A trade counselor with

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States