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California winemakers hail South Korean trade agreement

October 13, 2011 | 11:46 am

Foleywinerysantaynezvalleydavidlangfordap

California grape growers and vintners are excited about ratification by Congress of a free-trade agreement with South Korea.

The treaty calls for the immediate removal of a 15% Korean tariff on California wine and 45% import duty on grape juice concentrate. Korean excise, value-added and other taxes on California wines also will be lowered, making the products more attractive and affordable to Korean consumers.

California accounts for 90% of all U.S. wine exports to South Korea, which totaled 500,000 cases worth $11.2 million last year.

Korea has a significant wine-drinking culture, with import consumption growing 177% in the last decade, said Robert P. "Bobby" Koch, president of the Wine Institute, a trade group based in San Francisco.

California long had been the second biggest exporter of wine to Korea, behind France. However, Chile surpassed the Golden State in 2005 after the South American nation signed a trade agreement with Korea that sharply lowered import duties. The European Union signed its own treaty with Korea, which became effective on July 1, boosting the likelihood of increased wine sales.

The U.S. action Wednesday is expected to make California wines more competitive in the growing Korean market.

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-- Marc Lifsher

Photo: Foley Winery in Santa Ynez Valley. Credit: David Langford / Associated Press

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