- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - State agriculture officials are looking to increase Hawaii’s food exports to the Middle East next year.

Sharon Hurd, of the state Department of Agriculture’s Market Development Branch, said Middle Eastern countries, including the oil-rich United Arab Emirates represent an untapped market for Hawaii’s exports.

Representatives of the department plan to present Hawaii’s agricultural exports at a food convention in Dubai in February 2016. Hurd said she wants to use $10,000 in federal funds to secure a booth for Hawaii at the Gulfood trade show in Dubai, Hawaii News Now reported (http://bit.ly/1P8kn72).

Hurd has filed an application for exemption to state procurement laws to meet the convention’s deadlines. Her request is being reviewed.

Hurd said she understands how much effort it will take to make Hawaii a major player in the Middle Eastern market, but that the challenges can be overcome.

In her application, Hurd said that the six Persian Gulf states in the Gulf Cooperation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - have a population of roughly 40 million people and produce a small fraction of the food they consume.

“Hawaii products have not been tested in this market,” Hurd wrote. “The few companies that have looked into potential for Hawaii products have reported that our products are in demand.”

For now, Japan remains Hawaii’s biggest export market, with about $49 million in exports going to the country in 2014.

Exports to China totaled $19 million last year, and South Korea rounded out the top three for 2014 exports, with $8.3 million.

Only $191,000 in agricultural exports from Hawaii - including cocoa and cereal - went to the United Arab Emirates last year. The total for 2015 so far is $27,000.

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Information from: KGMB-TV, http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/

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