South Korea has had a strong focus on fully capitalising on the Hallyu wave to expand its food and beverage exports over the past few years, with strategies such as its New Southern policy focusing on ASEAN and India and more recently the New Northern policy focusing on Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia.
With the latter having hit a hurdle due to geopolitical challenges arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, it is now also eyeing Latin America as a new major export destination, aiming to work with the respective ministries to set up specialised food management systems to improve trade.
“The focus will first be on eight Central and South American countries - Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru,” South Korea Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) Minister Oh Yoo-Kyung said via a formal statement.
“There is an ongoing project to support South Korean food and beverage exports to this region being led by the Korea Food Safety Management Certification Institute, which will run across five years from 2023 to 2027.
“Under this project, MFDS has brought in experts on the food imports management systems for the eight countries to brief K-food industry players on their respective systems, and also shared our local food imports system and HACCP system [to find some synergy].”
This project falls under South Korea’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme, where it provides aid to developing countries to improve food management systems to promote economic development and social welfare, such as its work with Vietnam to develop a new national food safety management system for the latter.
“At present, one of the most significant challenges we face in terms of exporting K-food products to Central and South America is that there is very little food-related regulatory information that we can use,” she added.
“As such we not only want to demonstrate the excellence of our local foods and beverages to these countries, but also work with them as part of the ODA programme to support the improvement of their export and import food safety management capabilities.
“The ODA programme has designed to utilise MFDS’ food safety management know-how to help in the advancement of our trade partners’ systems, so as to ensure safe food trade between both countries.”
Can success be mirrored?
South Korea saw great success with its New Southern policy even through the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing record-breaking food and agriculture export numbers to the region after the policy was implemented.
A lot of this success was largely attributed to the strong influence of the Hallyu or Korean Culture wave that continues to sweep the region and gain fans via K-dramas and K-pop music, with a particularly strong presence in markets such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The country had hoped to continue this success with the New Northern policy, but with its top target in the region being Russia, this has undoubtedly had to take a backseat despite promising early results.
With K-pop and K-dramas having also found a significant fan base in Latin America, South Korea appears to be hoping that this Hallyu influence can again come into play to boost K-food exports – but it remains to be seen whether this will be as effective a strategy in a market where the existing telenovela and music culture is already one of the most flamboyant and dramatic in its own right.