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[Shin Hyun-gon] Overcome adversity, prepare to face new challenges 

The coronavirus outbreak is grabbing global headlines. It first appeared in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread to East and South Asia -- including South Korea, Japan and Singapore.

In only three months, virus infections have spread to almost all countries and territories around the world -- Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.

Many countries have tried to prevent travelers from coronavirus hot spots from entering with immigration and flight restrictions. But it seems that there is no place totally safe from the novel coronavirus.

Experts say that the possibility of a recession is increasing as the coronavirus spreads. As a result, there is volatility in exchange rates, oil prices and the stock market. Lots of factories and mass transits have been shut down in many countries.

Italy announced severe nationwide limits on travel to reduce the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Some US states have sent the National Guard to suburban enclave where COVID-19 is present. Eventually, the World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

COVID-19 has had a bad influence on consumption, manufacturing and trade between countries. As the economy of South Korea strongly depends on exports, many businesses will likely suffer severe losses, including food export companies. China, Japan, Southeast Asia are the main foreign markets for Korean food. It is difficult for farmers and food exporters because they make strong quarantine measures against entry from Korea.

Most companies exporting to China have faced difficulties with reduced consumption and mass transit closures. And it can happen in other countries with the spread of COVID-19. Many small and medium enterprises in Korea participate in famous food shows and events abroad every year to find new buyers and advertise their new products to their customers. But because of the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the food shows and events have been canceled or postponed to the second half of 2020.

The government and all the enterprises of Korea should cooperate to overcome this crisis. The Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Coporation (aT) has plans with the government to help companies who have difficulties exporting food products.

We opened the Export Problem Counselling Center to figure out exporting companies’ situations and let them know how to use the government’s support programs to help solve their problems. Also aT regularly checks the market circumstances all around the world through the overseas branches. We will start online promotion events and meeting programs for the food exporters and buyers so as not to lose customers.

In addition to that, we should prepare for the time after the pandemic subsides. It is obvious that there will be a lot of changes in the trade market, culture, economy, and society. Online markets will grow much faster, so the companies should prepare to keep up with this. Consumers will be more interested in healthy food and products that can increase immunity.

Korean food items are well known as healthy and slow food abroad. Red ginseng and fermented foods like kimchi, gochujang (hot pepper paste), doenjang (bean paste) are growing steady sellers in world markets. We need to develop new tasty products that can help people stay healthy.

There is an old saying in Buddhism: “Go a step further at the top of the 100-foot stick.” It means that you should break fixed ideas and take a new point of view to find a way to overcome a big barrier.

The economic circumstances of Korea are hard. But the honest effort of the government and medical staff to prevent COVID-19 spread are highly respected abroad. It can be a chance for healthy Korean food to make a quantum jump in world market when we overcome this adversity. I hope we can get over this severe situation together and make Korean food among the best-known products in the world.

Shin Hyun-gon
Shin Hyun-gon is executive vice president of food industry and trade division at Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation. The views reflected in the article are his own. -- Ed.