Japan and South Korea are embroiled in a heated dispute over… strawberries

How an Olympic curler reignited a decades-old fight between Japan and South Korea over fruit copyrights.

March 16, 2018

Last month, at the Winter Olympics, Japanese curler Yumi Suzuki was briefly spotted eating strawberries in between matches.

In a post-game conference, she told the press that the strawberries — a Korean variety — were “surprisingly delicious.” And with this seemingly innocuous comment, she reignited a decades-old dispute between Japan and South Korea over fruit copyrights.

A bitter berry battle 

Japan takes a lot of pride in their strawberry cultivation — and according to the country, Korea ripped off their seeds.

According to the WSJ, in the early 1990s, 2 varieties of Japanese strawberry seeds were taken to South Korea, and immediately gained popularity there. Over time, Korean farmers developed their own hybrids of the Japanese seeds and started claiming the strawberries as their own.

In Japan, this has been a great source of consternation: The government estimates these “plagiarized” strawberries cost their farmers $38m per year and contend that Korea is stifling its produce exports.

The bigger trade war

In recent years, Japan has blamed South Korea for the decline of their international dominance in the electronics and auto industries. In a competitive Asian trade market, Japan has watched Korea earn an increasingly larger share of the business.

That goes for strawberries, too. In 2017, Korea exported $44m worth of the fruits to Japan’s $17m, thanks largely to sales that tripled between 2000 and 2014.

Of course, there’s a twist: The strawberries that Japan claims as its own actually originated in Holland.

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