Korea makes bilateral headway with global leaders at G7
Korea made its debut at the Group of 7, or G7, summit hosted by Britain earlier this month, which was not only an opportunity to elevate the country’s global standing but also to strengthen bilateral economic ties with participating nations.
Leaders of the world's seven largest advanced economies — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — and the European Union, gathered for the three-day G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, from June 11 to 13. This year’s summit also invited South Korea, Australia and South Africa as guest countries.
The summit was the first in-person meeting among major heads of state since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last year and came at a critical moment as the world sets policies to gear towards global economic recovery and combating climate change.
In addition to taking part in the G7 gathering, President Moon Jae-in through a series of bilateral meetings with leaders on the sidelines of the summit further secured commitments to expand cooperation in key areas aligned with the Korean government’s visions to becoming a global vaccine hub and to build a greener economy.
Notably, Korea in the meeting with the EU agreed on green and digital cooperation; vaccine development with Germany and Britain; cutting-edge core technology exchanges with France; and building a hydrogen economy with Australia.
“The Republic of Korea has become one of the world’s 10 largest economies and a country where people — with unrivaled civic awareness — act in unison for democracy, epidemic prevention and control and carbon neutrality,” said Moon after the summit. “Now, we have become a nation that can determine our own destiny and engage in mutual support and cooperation with other countries.”
The G7 countries comprise 40 percent of the global GDP and 10 percent of the world’s population.
Hong Hyun-ik, a senior research fellow with the Sejong Institute think tank, said, “Through face-to-face meetings with the leaders of advanced nations, Korea was able to explain the results of its disease prevention efforts and our ability to become a vaccine production hub, establishing the political foundation to cooperate together with countries that have the vaccine technology but lack the production ability. This is a part of sales diplomacy, contributing to the development of Korea’s biotech industry.”
He added that Korea was able to also explain its efforts toward climate response, such as the P4G Seoul Summit last month, and cooperate with G7 countries in areas such as electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen energy to work toward a green transition.
Hong continued, “Korea leads globally in EV battery production as many countries produce electric vehicles taking into consideration the environment, and we were able to cooperate in this area, along with hydrogen vehicles and the use of hydrogen energy, which is another significant outcome from such short bilateral meetings [on the sidelines of the G7].”
Global vaccine hub – Britain and Germany
Korea plans on becoming a global coronavirus vaccine production hub, a vision President Moon emphasized during his trip to Europe and his earlier summit in Washington with U.S. President Joe Biden in April.
Vaccine cooperation and strengthening global health governance came up in Moon’s bilateral talks at the G7 with both leaders of Britain and Germany, two countries at the forefront of vaccine development, as well as heads of biotech companies producing Covid-19 vaccines.
Moon in talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host of the G7 summit, on June 13, stressed the importance of an equitable supply of Covid-19 vaccines to overcome the pandemic, and the two sides agreed to expand partnerships on vaccine research and development, the Blue House said.
The leaders also noted that the two countries are maintaining close political and economic cooperation even after Brexit, said the Blue House, and agreed to work together in various sectors including trade and investment, as their bilateral FTA took effect at the beginning of the year.
They further stressed the importance of addressing climate change and preserving biodiversity by moving away from coal-powered energy and working together on a new green industrial revolution.
Korea plans to actively work to resolve the global vaccine shortage, a subject raised by Moon in talks with AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, asking the British-Swedish biotech company to utilize Korean production capacity to supply vaccines to the world "more smoothly.”
Among Korean companies, SK Bioscience is producing vaccines for AstraZeneca and Novavax, Samsung Biologics for Moderna, and two consortiums led by Hankook Korus Pharm and Huons Global for Russia's Sputnik V.
SK Bioscience is producing adenoviral vector vaccines through AstraZeneca’s technology transfer, and Moon expressed his gratitude toward the company for enabling “Korea to take the important first step toward emerging as a global vaccine production hub.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Moon agreed on mRNA vaccine development cooperation between the two countries.
Moon told Merkel, “Germany, a vaccine development leader, and the Republic of Korea, which has strengths in vaccine production, need to find ways to cooperate” to help “facilitate the global vaccine supply and make it more equitable.”
Merkel in turn promised to consult with German vaccine companies with mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, technology, according to the Blue House.
This company turned out to be German biotech company CureVac, which has technology to produce mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, like those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Moon on June 15 held a videoconference with Franz-Werner Haas, CEO of German biotech company CureVac, while on a visit to Austria.
The CureVac vaccine, CVnCoV, is undergoing late-stage clinical trials and has yet to receive approval from EU regulators. It is also working to develop a second-generation vaccine for coronavirus variants.
Haas during the videoconference expressed interest in and support for Korea’s global vaccine hub plan.
CureVac, launched in 2000, is a smaller company compared to other major Covid-19 vaccine developers. It aims to produce 300 million vaccine doses this year and 1 billion next year, and will have to find a partner for mass production to do so. Several Korean companies have been reported as potential producers.
Lee Seung-kyu, vice chair of KoreaBIO, said, “Since there is no mRNA vaccine technology in Korea yet, it is important to acquire it quickly through technology transfer of various vaccines. At this point, we have to take action considering the domestic vaccine supply and demand situation. Secondly, since there will be such pandemics in the future, Korea must have vaccine technology to prepare for it.”
He said that Korea’s advancements in biopharmaceutical production so far are “thanks to the fundamental efforts built up by the government and companies,” but noted that more efforts are needed now.
Lee added, “The pandemic is a really good opportunity for Korea to catch up with developed countries as a latecomer in this area. We need to keep bringing in mRNA technology and try it out, and the government should fund such efforts and help with networking for global clinical trials.”
Green economy and tech cooperation – EU and France
Europe has been a global trendsetter as it aims to become carbon neutral by 2050 with its Green Deal, which also aligns with Korea’s overarching policy to strengthen employment and the social safety net as it transitions to a net-zero emissions green economy.
On the sidelines of the G7 summit, President Moon Jae-in held talks with President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on bilateral trade issues and climate response.
Moon noted that the EU is leading the post-Covid-19 era through the European Green Deal and its 2030 Digital Targets, while Korea is similarly heading toward the same goals through its Green New Deal and Digital New Deal.
Moon continued, “The European Union has excellent capabilities regarding the low-carbon economy and renewable energy, and Korea has strengths in hydrogen-powered cars, electric vehicles, energy storage systems, batteries and the hydrogen economy. Given this, Korea and the European Union can create synergy.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, in bilateral talks with Moon, called for stronger cooperation with Korea in core technology sectors — especially in cutting-edge technology fields such as semiconductors and EVs, as well as in the health care and energy sectors.
This year marks 135 years of diplomatic relations between France and Korea.
In 2019, bilateral trade achieved a record-high for both Korean and French exports since the Korea-EU FTA came into effect in 2011, reaching 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion) and 5.2 billion euros respectively, according to the French Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Fkcci). Exports shrank slightly last year due to the pandemic, but the two sides remain important partners in transportation, electronics and energy.
Macron stressed the importance of working together on culture and education, while Moon brought up training and educational exchanges in artificial intelligence (AI) and software sectors, said the Blue House.
Moon said, “As the digital and green transitions are now underway, I look forward to our countries strengthening cooperation to nurture AI and software professionals.”
Korea hopes to “enhance cooperation in the relevant areas at the bilateral or Korea-EU level,” he added.
Likewise, the G7 summit communiqué committed to “supporting a green revolution that creates jobs, cuts emissions and seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees” Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hydrogen economy - Australia
Korea and Australia agreed at the G7 to broaden “horizons of economic cooperation,” especially on hydrogen use and other low-carbon technologies and development of minerals.
Moon told Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “Cooperation between friendly nations upholding shared values has become more important at a time when the international order is undergoing rapid changes due to Covid-19, the climate crisis and the transition to a low-carbon and digital economy. I hope that our countries will jointly contribute to stabilizing the global supply chain and strengthen our low-carbon technology- and hydrogen-related cooperation.”
He also expressed hope to “join forces in national infrastructure, national defense and the defense industry, thereby making joint contributions to peace in the region.”
Australia is especially known for its abundant natural resources and a robust IT industry.
Moon expressed hope for the development of joint projects to combine Australia's competitive edge on renewable energy and Korea's advanced technologies in the hydrogen car and battery sectors.
Morrison likewise said that "synergy" can be created between Australia's hydrogen energy production and Korea's hydrogen-fueled vehicle technology.
Morrison also proposed that the two sides elevate their relationship to a "comprehensive partnership," the Blue House said, and Moon welcomed the offer. Korea and Australia commemorate the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties this year.
Lee Seung-hoon, policy planning department general director of Hydrogen Convergence Alliance, or H2Korea, said the public-private think tank has made road maps with the government to predict demand needed for hydrogen energy and found that there could be a shortage after 2030.
“According to a calculation of how much hydrogen is needed for CO2 reduction in 2030, 2040 and 2050, the demand will lead to a boom after 2030 as the market expands,” said Lee. “There will be demand from industries for energy transition, but there will be a definite shortage of hydrogen here. Then, eventually, we will have no choice but to import green hydrogen from overseas. Even now, Korea imports about 93 percent of our energy, but in the future, our country has limited land, and there is not much of renewable energy that can be produced, so we will have no choice but to rely on foreign countries.”
Hydrogen can be imported in the form of green hydrogen or green ammonia.
“There is a high possibility that it will be imported in the form of liquid hydrogen after 2030, so the question is where and how to import it,” said Lee. “Even now, we are actively contacted by countries like Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, who tell us that they will produce green hydrogen, and we should buy it.”
He pointed out that sourcing hydrogen supply is not just an issue for Korea, but for Europe as well, suggesting they can consider importing hydrogen through joint investment or consortium.
“Currently, market demand for EVs and hydrogen vehicle is sustained by government subsidies,” said Lee. “So, although there is no economic feasibility yet, companies are working to realize price competitiveness through tech development and securing demand. To expand that market, governments will have to work together, which is the important part right now.”
Australia, like Korea, is a democratic Asia-Pacific country that was invited to attend the G7 summit.
“The G7 is not just a gathering of the world’s advanced economies but of democratic countries,” said Hong of the Sejong Institute. “By Korea’s participation amid pressure to choose sides in the Sino-U.S. rivalry, we were able to cooperate with the strongest democratic countries without making a choice between China and the United States, which is another significant diplomatic outcome.”
He continued, “Korea being chosen to participate is another significant result in itself, and we may eventually be able to become a part of an expanded G7 if there is no opposition from member countries. This shows the progress in Korea’s diplomacy, as well as its elevated global status."
BY SARAH KIM, SONG KYOUNG-SON [email@example.com]