SEOUL-- South Korea will ship about 37 tons of fresh fruit to Myanmar to assess its potential and build effective distribution channels in the local market, Seoul's agriculture ministry said Thursday.

Gyeongbuk Corporation, a South Korean food wholesaler and exporter, will ship 7 tons of apples and 8 tons of pears on Friday, and 17 tons of tangerines and sweet persimmons on Nov. 22 via ship. About 5 tons of strawberries will be delivered by air in early December.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it will support the local company's efforts to sell the fruit in the Southeast Asian nation to pave the way for growth in the market.

"The government will support local companies' attempts to enter the market before the Myanmar government starts to adopt strict quarantine measures on imported foods," Jung Su-yeon, a ministry official, said. "Myanmar has a big growth potential with a significantly large youth population with many Korean TV programs gaining popularity."

Local exporters have shown interest in the Southeast Asian nation with a population of 60 million, but absence of direct flights between the two countries and a relatively small demand for imported fruits have restricted inroads into the market.

The ministry said it will seek ways to establish effective distribution channels and contact big buyers in the local market.

The latest move comes as the two nations plan to negotiate the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) next year.

The SPS agreement concerns the application of food safety as well as animal and plant health regulations set by the World Trade Organization.

Myanmar currently allows imports of fresh fruits without special quarantine measures, and imposes 15 percent duties on food products by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has a free trade agreement with South Korea.

South Korea exported $19 million worth of agro-food products to Myanmar last year, with fresh fruits and foods accounting for $230,000, the ministry said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency