Exports of kimchi to China may finally get a boost following the bilateral summit meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
At talks held Thursday, the two leaders agreed to expand cooperation and exchanges in the food sector as well as review various regulatory standards that Seoul has argued effectively made it impossible to export kimchi to China.
Kimchi is a salted, spicy fermented side dish made with either pickled cabbage, cucumber or radishes. South Korean food companies ship some US$90 million worth of the dish annually to countries such as Japan, Taiwan and the United States, but they have been all but shut out of the Chinese market due to Beijing's guidelines on the country's pickled vegetables, pao cai, which are applied to kimchi.
South Korea, which has no such restriction, actually imports more than $100 million worth of kimchi from China every year.
Under existing rules, Chinese authorities demand that all fermented vegetable dishes must have fewer than 30 colon bacillus per 100 grams. Because pao cai is prepared by boiling the salt and chili brine before pouring it over cabbages and other vegetables, the number of colon bacillus can meet the set standards. The dish is also kept in sealed containers that further reduces growth of bacteria.
On the other hand, kimchi is made by salting and adding spices directly to fresh vegetables and left to ferment naturally. This preparation process can lead to more colon bacillus than is permitted by Chinese authorities, although these bacteria die off in the fermentation process as kimchi releases more lactic acid.
The problem for local exporters is that because of its shelf life, kimchi must be shipped right after it is made and before the lactic acid is released. They say that China's restrictions overlook the fact that colon bacillus is generally nonpathogenic.
To deal with the restrictions, South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture, Food Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety have been holding regular talks with Chinese officials since 2012 to resolve this issue, but their appeals have made little headway.
"Since Park and Xi concurred on the need to address this issue, we hope for some sort of changes in the regulatory rules down the line that could allow South Korean companies to ship kimchi to China," a government official said. (Yonhap)