Finnish envoy expects a busy year

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Finnish envoy expects a busy year


Finland started its service holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1. The EU presidency is rotated among the 25 member nations every six months: Finland succeeded Austria and will hand the post over to Germany in January. According to the roster, pre-scheduled by the council, Germany should have come before Finland, but the two nations switched their order as Germany was supposed to hold a general election during its scheduled period of time, while Finland expects to hold its parliamentary election in the first half of next year.
With his nation now holding the EU presidency, Finnish Ambassador to Seoul Kim Luotonen is expected to be busier than usual for the remainder of this year.
“I will basically be involved in arranging and chairing meetings for the 25 member states of the union and acting as spokesperson when the union is making representations to the Korean authorities,” said Mr. Luotonen at an interview with the JoongAng Daily.
He will also fly to Helsinki for the sixth summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which will be held Sept. 10 and 11. During that time, a summit meeting between the European Union and Korea is also scheduled in Helsinki, he said. He said that he hopes such events will raise the recognition of Finland within Korea.
Mr. Luotonen was also recently accredited to North Korea, and, from today, will be visiting Pyongyang, for the first time, to present his credentials. Until now, the Finnish Ambassador to Beijing also covered North Korea. “I’m excited to visit Pyongyang,” said Mr. Luotonen. He has been to the Kaesong Industrial Complex before but said it was not a typical scene North Korea but a normal, modern factory.
Regarding the North’s recent missile launches, Mr. Luotonen said that officially Finland called it “a provocative act” that deters stability in this region. “We condemn the missile tests, but even if the situation worsens, we won’t link humanitarian aid to the issue,” he said. He added, however, that the EU requires monitoring in the North that its aid is sent to those who most need it, and if that monitoring becomes difficult, the amount of aid should be scaled down, even though giving aid isn’t used as a political measure by Finland.
Mr. Luotonen has been in Korea for two years now, and said that trade between Finland and Korea has slightly increased to 1.1 billion euros ($1.38 billion) in 2005 from 750 million euros in 2004. The increase was mostly due to a growth in Korea’s exports, causing Finland’s deficit to jump from 120 million euros to 280 million euros in the same period. “But the potential is there at least,” he said.
The ambassador said that some Finnish companies are looking for partnerships with Korea. But the main problems here are regulations and Korea’s “protectionist” style approval system, which he regarded as “somewhat burdensome and complicated.” He said that such an approval system causes additional work for the companies, and Korea has much to do in that area.
“Seemingly, the regulatory authorities [in Seoul] don’t want to give up their power,” Mr. Luotonen said, adding that some of the regulations seem arbitrary. He said that the approval system makes Korea’s market behave as if closed, even though it looks open. Mr. Luotonen said that Korea should open its market further, particularly in the service sectors, such as legal, educational and health services. He said such opening is essential for growing and improving the economy because it offers new opportunities as well as the challenge to be competitive.

by Park Sung-ha
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