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[Herald Interview] Food trade chief confident of winning official recognition of Kimchi Day in US

Korea’s kimchi exports likely to hit all-time high of $160m, with US second-biggest destination

Nov. 21, 2023 - 16:35 By Shim Woo-hyun
Kim Choon-jin, CEO of Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp., speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Seoul on Monday. (Im Se-joon/The Korea Herald)

The declaration of "Kimchi Day" is not only necessary to raise awareness about the Korean staple food globally, but also to protect it in a decadeslong cultural feud over its origin, according to Kim Choon-jin, CEO of Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp.

Kim is a three-term lawmaker who entered South Korea's political scene after having been the dentist of former President Kim Dae-jung. He was appointed as CEO of the state-run food trade agency, known as aT for short, in 2021.

Among many other missions, he embraces the promotion of Korean foods and beverages around the world, he said, and getting the US House of Representatives to adopt a resolution designating Nov. 22 as Kimchi Day has been his key goal.

"After a failed attempt last year, I expect the US Congress to adopt the resolution this year," Kim said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. "If adopted, I believe it will be the first federal-level recognition of Kimchi Day in the US."

The Kimchi Day resolution will be presented without a formal vote, as Rep. Young Kim, a Republican representing California who was born in Incheon, will present it during the plenary session on Dec. 6.

Currently, 12 states and cities in the US, including the nation's capital Washington, California, New York and Virginia, have officially recognized Kimchi Day. Argentina, the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo and the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames in London have also introduced the day.

Kim said the increasing popularity of kimchi and Korean culture broadly will help with the US Congress designation.

"Recently, there have been many kimchi festivals in the US, involving many Korean residents living in the country," he said. "Exports of kimchi products have particularly increased in the US, thanks to the growing popularity of the fermented cabbage dish that comes with many health benefits.”

In 2011, South Korea’s exports of kimchi products to the US were just around $2.8 million, but the figure surged to $23 million in 2020 and further to $34.3 million this year as of the second week of November, according to aT data.

Separate data from the Korea Customs Services found Tuesday that this year the total exports of kimchi had reached $130.6 million in the January-October period, up 10 percent from a year prior. The number of importing countries also increased from 61 in 2013 to 93 this year.

Kim stressed that official recognition in the US, the second-largest kimchi importer after Japan, will become an important milestone to reaffirm Korea as the origin country for the iconic cabbage dish, amid controversies involving neighboring countries.

“Kimchi, which has been an integral part of Koreans' every meal throughout their history, represents the collective identity of Koreans. Kimchi is ‘soul food’ in that matter and capable of connecting Korean people together,” Kim said.

“Spreading Kimchi Day in the US and other countries is important for 7.5 million Korean residents living overseas as well as it would help them remember their identity and pass the tradition to the next generations."