중앙데일리

Leader builds ties between his first and second homes

German companies invested $7.3 billion in Korea last year, up from $260 million in 1997 before the financial crisis.

Apr 09,2007
Jurgen O. Wohler
Jurgen O. Wohler, the new secretary general of the Korea-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has one ambition. He wants the Korean government to provide a playing field for European companies that is comparable to the one offered American competitors.
“The Korean government applies U.S. regulations and standards, which has the potential to compromise compatible European products,” Mr. Wohler said. “The government should also accept European regulations and standards, which are just as good as those in the United States.”
He said that the German chamber, unlike other foreign business representative organizations that are mostly financed by state governments, is a bilateral organization that also has Korean companies among its 350 member companies.
“We not only represent the interests of German companies but also Korean companies.”
As the new secretary general, Wohler said the biggest project this year is the upcoming Asia-Pacific Conference, where the heads of over 600 German companies will visit Seoul in October 2007. “This shows German companies’ commitment to Korea,” Wohler said.
Another goal Wohler hopes to achieve is to help small and medium German companies that have not yet done so to discover the Korean market. Wohler said the economic partnership between the two countries in recent years has been satisfying and he strongly believes it will continue to grow.
“The top industries of both countries are very much alike,” Wohler said.
Both Korea and Germany specialize in the manufacture of automobiles, ships, machinery and electronics.
Moreover, German companies invested $7.3 billion in Korea last year, up from $260 million in 1997 before the financial crisis.
Korean companies seek German markets as well. Conglomerates such as Hyundai, Kumho, Samsung and Hanjin have been setting up offices throughout Germany, particularly in Frankfurt.
Wohler said Korea has been a nice place to do business ― intellectual property rights are well protected, and the market is more accessible and less costly compared to some of Korea’s neighbors.
Another strength of the Korean market is that consumers here are willing to pay for high-quality products, he said.
German household products are still relatively unknown, Wohler said, referring to items such as toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent and some foods.
“I wouldn’t say [they’re] weak, but compatible German consumer goods are missing in Korea. It is not as strong as it should be,” Wohler said.
One product Koreans should pay particular attention to is German ice wine, he said, which is very difficult to make.
Wohler said the recent free trade agreement between Korea and the United States is of little concern to Germany.
“Rice is Korea’s biggest issue, but since Germany hardly produces rice, this will not be an issue.” He added that the Korea-U.S. FTA could motivate the European Union to conclude free trade negotiations with Korea.
Wohler is married to a Korean, Kim Mi-kyoung and has four sons. “We have never run out of kimchi,” he said.
Wohler said he has been fascinated with Asia and Buddhism since high school.
He was given the opportunity to come to Korea in 1985, and he grabbed it without hesitation. He met his wife during his first visit here.
“I have never regretted [it],” Wohler said.


By Lee Ho-jeong Staff Writer [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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