Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rethinking and Re-energizing the Canada-South Korea Relationship

Rethinking and Re-energizing the Canada-South Korea Relationship
(Asia Pacific Bulletin)
December 15, 2008

Meeting for the first time since 2002, negotiators representing Seoul and Ottawa convened last month in Vancouver to discuss a bilateral open skies agreement. No agreement was signed, although a wide-ranging deal is expected to be finalized in a second round set to take place in the New Year. Despite lingering uncertainty over a Canada-South Korea FTA, the air services talks serve as an important reminder that Canada-Korea relations are moving forward.

In a rapidly changing global order in which giants like the US, China and India have cornered Canadian attention, relations with mid-sized Asian countries are easily overlooked. In a March 2008 national opinion survey conducted by APF Canada, only 37% of Canadians saw South Korea as important or very important to Canada's prosperity, and fewer than 1% saw the country offering the greatest market potential for Canada in Asia. Only 40% supported a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Seoul compared to 41% who opposed it. When asked about the state of bilateral relations compared to two years ago, 10% saw them as better, 7% worse, 56% the same, and a significant 27% did not know. Clearly, the picture of Canada’s relationship with Korea, or what it could become, is underdeveloped and unclear. Yet now is the time that Canada should refresh and re-prioritize collaboration with countries such as South Korea.

Entire article available at Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Commentary: Obviously it would make sense for more Koreans to realize that gaining entry to new trading partners and markets in Canada is often about more than having a basic understanding of the English language. Also for Canadian exporters some greater reciprocal work opportunities would assist building the trade bridges to greater volumes of shared profits. As the article indicates of the estimated 15,000 Canadians in Korea around 10,000 of them are here teaching English so a total of 66.66% are present in the country but not participating in any way in developing import/export partnerships. The degree of collaboration between Canadian and Korean companies is of interest to me however I have yet to engage the networks of Canadian businesses here or Korean businesses interested to develop new relationships with Canadian companies as I feel the time will come, when I am properly prepared to be called upon for assistance.

I have maintained in previous posts that the technical "non-profit" category for foreign educational university establishments in Korea does preclude the necessary first entrant position which may then be followed by a perhaps easing of regulatory frameworks to permit profits to be reinvested in the educational trading relationship. While the LG-Nortel JV may be an early example of Canadian investment in Korea it might not be the best to trumpet at this time when its share prices in terms of Nortel are dismally positioned. I have also commented previously that Canada's primary aim in opening free trade with Korea should be the early establishment of Canadian university branch campuses here to draw from the surrounding nations and attract more Canadians to study in Korea in institutions which they trust will provide a qualified and globally reputable education rather than securing positions for American owned car companies which may cease to exist in the next six months.

My own university employer here is setting massive local investment into a new technology and innovation incubator. My training qualifies me quite well to offer liaison services in local research should Canadians come forward with any degree of interest. For example, if local university institutions were to offically partner with Canadian ones they might find thousands of Canadians willing to relocate to Korea for the chance of a similar education with either lower overall costs or shorter terms of study.

Whatever the results of Canada and Korea's FTA negotiations they should complement each other particularly due to their similar US relationship and it should be quite clear to each party what steps need to be taken to make a deal. It would probably need to be quite sweet and I suspect Korean negotiators may be unaccustomed to swinging certain markets such as financials and education wide open to foreigners. As well Canadians appear to be stuck in terms of failing to realize that forcing American made dinosaur-type cars should not be the focal element of their proposals.

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