Few things are more quintessential to South Korea than kimchi, a delicious fermented cabbage side dish seasoned with garlic and chili powder. It’s been a staple of Korean cuisine for centuries, and the average citizen consumes about 40 lbs of the stuff annually.
But behind the dish’s popularity, Korea is in the throes of a massive kimchi trade deficit — largely because it can’t compete with Chinese imports.
The import/export blues
According to the Taipei Times, South Korea dropped $129m on 275k metric tons of imported kimchi last year (99% of which was from China), but only managed to export 24k metric tons, worth $81m.
In total, that amounts to a $47.3m trade deficit — meaning Korea’s own native dish is now dominated by a foreign market.
The main reason for this is that Korean producers just can’t compete with China on prices: at $3.36/kg, domestic kimchi is nearly 7x the price of the Chinese imports ($0.50/kg).
Thy neighbor’s cabbage
South Korea has been in a kimchi deficit since ‘06 and has been reliant on Chinese kimchi since 2010, when massive rainfall crimped cabbage supply and forced the country to reduce tariffs on imported kimchi.
Since then, China’s seized the opportunity to fill the kimchi-sized hole in Korea’s stomach — and now, the majority of the kimchi you’ll find in Seoul and surrounding cities is from China.