Lily bulb exports to South Korea will become easier

The Netherlands and  Korea have agreed on a new pre-clearance inspection protocol on lily bulbs. The negotiation took  more than 2 years. Korea’s strict regulation requires laboratory tests for lily bulbs during import inspection in Korea. With the new bilateral protocol, the imported bulbs will be exempted from these tests, easing the trade between the two countries. In the coming months both countries will continue to negotiate on expanding the protocol to other flower bulb crops.

Lily bulb
©Woori Flower Seed & Seedling

Korean flower bulb market is not a very big market but has been regarded as a stable and growing market among Dutch flower bulb exporters. In 2019, the Netherlands exported 6.8 million euros (2,054 ton) of flower bulbs into Korea. The largest crop was Tulip bulbs, followed by Lily, Narcissus, Hyacinth and Gladiolus. The Netherlands accounted for 95% of Korea’s total import of flower bulbs by value. The import volume has steadily grown since 2016.

In order to activate trade of flower bulbs and ease import inspection, the Netherlands and Korea had a bilateral agreement for pre-clearance inspection for flower bulbs agreed a long time ago. The old pre-clearance inspection protocol was created originally to exempt 5 main flower bulb crops (Tulip, Lily, Iris, Gladiolus and Freesia) from PEQ (Post Entry Quarantine). Both countries had agreed to exempt lab tests during import inspection in Korea. Instead, Korean inspectors visited the Netherlands to check Dutch inspection system twice a year : 1 inspection in the spring and 1 inspection in the summer. Other flower bulbs that were not included in the protocol such as Hyacinth and Narcissus had to be tested upon arrival in Korea through PEQ. PEQ is a way of inspection to test pests after planting bulbs and growing 1 cycle of life. Viruses are not easily detected when in the bulb stage. If a pest is found through PEQ, all the flowers raised for PEQ and bulbs in the same shipment need to be destroyed.

In 2016 and 2017, a lot of shipments of Dutch Narcissus bulbs were blocked upon arrival in Korea due to findings of Narcissus Yellow Stripe Virus, a provisional quarantine pest in Korea. Korean Narcissus farmers strongly complained about destroying  the flowers as well as the bulbs.  PEQ has been an issue among APQA (the phytosanitary authority of South Korea) officials and Korean flower farmers for a long time. Recently as APQA believes that their skills have developed enough to detect viruses without PEQ , and in order to avoid criticism by farmers, APQA decided to abolish PEQ for flower bulbs. This however meant that the old pre-clearance inspection protocol between the Netherlands and Korea, which was dependent on PEQ scheme, was no longer valid.

Therefore, in 2017, both countries started negotiation on a new pre-clearance inspection protocol. The negotiations prolonged as Korea was keen on lab tests during export inspection in the Netherlands. Dutch inspection system is on a visual field inspection basis. The Netherlands couldn't accept the proposed lab tests by Korea as it cost a lot, and there are no importing countries asking for extensive lab tests. At a certain point an APQA delegation visited the Netherlands to narrow the gap but failed to reach an agreement. Since the expiration of the old pre-clearance inspection protocol, flower bulbs have been imported into Korea in compliance with Korea's conventional phytosanitary regulations. Some shipments were blocked due to findings of Korea’s own quarantine pests.

In 2019 and 2020, a lot of lily bulbs were blocked due to detection of Rhodococcus fascians and Arabis Mosaic Virus. Many local famers, associations and even politicians  addressed Korea's strict regulations. APQA actively studied the imported cases in other countries such as the US, Canada and Japan. All the countries had pre-clearance agreements with the Netherlands on a visual field inspection basis. Eventually Korea and the Netherlands agreed to start negotiation  for lily bulbs first, as agreement on all flower bulb crops at the same time unrealistic. As a result of long discussions, Korea finally accepted the Dutch inspection system on a visual inspection basis. This means that all laboratory tests for Korea’s quarantine pests will be exempted. In return, the Netherlands agreed to add Rhodococcs fascians as a zero-tolerance pest to the Dutch system. Risks from any unknown (provisional) quarantine pests were also eliminated by stipulating bilateral discussion in advance in the protocol.

Both countries agreed on this new protocol at the end of September, and in spite of Covid-19, two APQA inspectors visited the Netherlands to survey Dutch inspection system between 5 and 9 October. Lily bulbs will be exempted from lab tests in Korea from 2020 harvests. 2019 harvests and lily bulbs harvested in France are not subject to this protocol.  

The Netherlands and Korea agreed on expanding the protocol to others crops in the coming months, as stipulated in the new protocol. The Netherlands has an ambition to expand this protocol not only to the 4 crops (Tulip, Iris, Gladiolus and Freesia) in the old protocol but also to additional crops such as Narcissus and Hyacinth.