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Korean free trade an Okanagan boom

Kelowna-Lake Country MP, Ron Cannan and federal International Trade Minister, Ed  Fast were in Kelowna Friday extolling the virtues of the recently signed free trade agreement between Canada and South Korea.

Friday's media event and photo op was held at Summerhill Estate Winery - a company and business expected to be one of the big beneficiaries of the free trade deal.

Summerhill CEO, Ezra Cipes, calls this a great opportunity for the Okanagan wine industry.

"We are really just in our infancy as an industry. The wine industry is international and we compete internationally," says Cipes.

"We really do have an opportunity with ice wine especially to distinguish ourselves as the best in the world. What this trade agreement does is it puts us on a level playing field with other wine producing regions that have similar agreements with Korea."

Once the agreement becomes official in about a year Cipes says it will immediately eliminate trade tariffs on ice wine, tariffs which run as much as 15 per cent.

"It will make us much more competitive and much more friendly to do business with with potential partners in Korea."

According to Cipes South Korea is one of the fastest growing countries in terms of wine consumption in the world.

Cannan told those in attendance that the agreement will also benefit the soft fruit industry, specifically cherries and blueberries and provide agri-food opportunities as well.

David Geen with the BC Cherry Growers Association says the new agreement allows for frozen cherries to be sent to the Korean market (blueberries are included as well).

Geen expects fresh fruit to be included within about three years.

Fast, who is also the MP for Abbotsford, says, while the agreement is good for Canada it is especially good for BC.

"Fifty per cent of all exports that come out of Canada into Korea actually come from or through British Columbia. That's how important Korea is to our economy," says Fast.

"Over $2B worth of exports a year."

Fast says tariffs won't be eliminated completely, says some will be phased out over a three to seven year period.

"You need to position yourselves and if you are representing industry associations you need to position your members now to take advantage of those opportunities," says Fast.

"Find those strategic partners and alliances in those new markets. Get our products to market."

He says the private sector needs to step up and 'hit a home run - hit it out of the park.'




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