I have been struck, in the nearly 2 and a half years that I have been living here, by the sheer dynamism of South Korea. There’s a real sense that our bi-lateral cooperation has never been stronger and I hear from colleagues around the Embassy daily about how Britain and South Korea are working together more closely as partners across a wide spectrum of important international fields.
Part of this plays out in our political relationship where we share political and economic values and collaborate closely to further our shared goals. We are working closely together on the UN Security Council, for example, where South Korea has just taken up a rotating seat.
But it comes to bear most visibly in our trade and investment relationship.
We are already exporting more than ever before to South Korea– non-oil exports were up 18% in real terms last year. Total goods and services exports are higher in value terms than British exports to India, Canada, Australia or South Africa. But I know we can be even more ambitious.
The opportunities across a range of sectors are truly outstanding, not least thanks to the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Korea. Both of our governments are committed to developing low-carbon, green-growth economies. And the global focus on theUKin 2012 only added to Korean consumers’ enthusiasm for British products and brands.
Many British companies are already doing great business in South Korea too. Tesco has close to 400 stores – its largest operation outside the UK. Standard Chartered is the biggest international investor in Korea’s financial sector.
Our high-end fashion designers boast of record profits with high spending and sophisticated Korean consumers ready to pay for quality. Other companies such as Weir and Edwards have set up manufacturing units in South Korea proving that Britain’s advanced engineers can and do still make it big in the Far East.
So why are we not yet making the most of the Korean market? In my view, it is the general lack of awareness among British firms about modern Korea and what it offers that is the single greatest barrier we face.
To overcome this challenge, we have planned Opportunity Korea , the government’s most ambitious ever export promotion road show focused on the South Korean market.
Launching with an insight event and evening opening reception hosted by Lord Green at Lancaster House on February 4th, the week-long programme of events will include briefings, seminars and one-to-one meetings in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, Minister for Asia Hugo Swire and former British Airways CEO Willie Walsh are participating in the programme. And representatives from British businesses already operating in South Kore are attending to share their insights on the routes, nature and culture of doing business in this exciting market.
Through our programme of free events up and down the UK in February and follow-up trade missions to Korea, we want more British businesses to learn about this astonishing country and to consider it as a destination for their products and services. I hope that the events and speakers we have lined up, along with our extensive offer of follow up support will help make this a reality.
Registrations are now open. UK companies interested in learning more about the South Korean market are encouraged to visit www.opportunitykorea.ukti.gov.uk to find out more and sign up to attend one of the free regional events.
I look forward to meeting you next month!