[Viewpoint]Korea, EU can benefit each otherThere’s a saying that a developed country knows itself and its place in the world, but a developing country knows neither.
Korea, the world’s 11th-largest economy, is consolidating its status as a developed country.
The country, however, knows surprisingly little about the rest of the world.
For instance, most Koreans do not realize the European Union, not the United States, is the world’s largest economy.
In addition to the United States, Koreans are charmed and intrigued by China, which is potentially the world’s next superpower.
While struggling to learn English and Chinese, Korean students have lost interest in major European languages such as French, German and Spanish.
Despite the lack of interest, the European Union is the second-largest trading partner for Korea behind China, ahead of Japan and the United States. The biggest share of foreign investment into Korea comes from the European Union.
The unbalanced attention is not healthy for Korea because it is undergoing negotiations with the European Union on a free trade agreement.
The SNU-KIEP EU Center, a joint effort between the Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University and the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, is trying to counterbalance the trend.
The center was established in March 2006 with the support of the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU.
On June 4, the center launched its first annual Korea-EU Forum at the Marriott Hotel in Seoul to discuss the current condition of the relationship between the two and their future prospects.
The forum is designed to find ways to strengthen the relationship between Korea and the European Union. Regular meetings will be held at least once a year to promote ties. After the meetings, the forum will issue reports to the Korean government and the European Commission.
The forum is comprised of senior individuals from the business, political and academic circles of each region. The forum will be expanded to include representatives from the member countries of the EU. At the first meeting of the forum, there were five Korean representatives and four from the EU (Germany, France, Italy and Belgium).
Considering the economic potential of Korea and the EU, the forum concluded that there was plenty of room for further expansion of trade and foreign direct investment.
In accordance with this consensus, the forum decided to provide strong support through various means to facilitate a successful conclusion to the Korea-EU FTA negotiations. Forum members agreed a comprehensive and high-level FTA is desirable.
The Korea-EU FTA will diversify Korea’s market, whereas the agreements will strengthen the European Union’s position vis-a-vis China and Japan.
In addition to the economic, political and diplomatic dimensions of Korea-EU relations, the forum emphasizes the importance of promoting cultural exchanges to raise the mutual awareness and perception of the other parties.
To that end, the forum will develop and launch the Young Leaders Exchange Program in the near future.
There was also an agreement to promote the exchange of professional and university students through an increase in opportunities for business internships and scholarship programs.
The forum will establish secretariat offices in Seoul and Brussels. The second annual meeting will be in March 2008 in Brussels, with an interim meeting to be held probably in October this year.
In order to successfully attain its objectives, the forum must be supported not only by the public sector but also the private sector.
As a concluding remark, it is worth citing Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong’s statement when he formally launched talks for Korea-EU FTA negotiations: “For trade-dependent Korea, opening up is a matter of survival.”
It should be added that upgraded Korea-EU relations will provide new opportunities for mutual cultural enrichment that will generate productive and creative ideas.
*The writer is chairman of the SNU-KIEP EU Center.
by Kim Cae-one