“Open Korea: Opportunities for growth in Asia’s most innovative country”
On 15 November, the Embassy of Switzerland and the Norwegian Embassy in Seoul along with the EFTA Secretariat hosted a celebration event for the 15th anniversary of the EFTA-Korea FTA’s entry into force, under the title of “Open Korea: Opportunities for growth in Asia’s most innovative country”. The event was hybrid, connecting speakers attending remotely, and also accessible via zoom for the pre-registered public. The physical event was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, accommodating around 60 participants from Korean Ministries, Korean and European business associations and the diplomatic corps. Only vaccinated people were admitted to the venue, and distancing measures were fully complied with.
Swiss Ambassador Linus von Castelmur, Norwegian Ambassador Frode Solberg, and Icelandic Ambassador Thorir Ibsen had welcoming speeches, and Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy’s Director General for FTA Policy, Mr. Yang Ghi-wuk also gave a congratulatory address.
Looking back 15 years of the EFTA- Korea FTA
EFTA Secretary General Henri Gétaz and Norwegian Trade Minister Jan Christian Vestre sent pre-recorded speeches.
EFTA Deputy Secretary General Frank Büchel presented the institution’s review of the 15 years of the implementation of the agreement (a summary of which is attached) showing 1) consistent expansion of trade between the two parties; 2) relatively low utilization of the agreement (below 70%) for various reasons cited below and; 3) possible solutions, such as improved information access on FTAs/easing red tapes/updating the agreement per se.
Way forward: For an agreement to better reflect fast changing trade landscape
A panel discussion followed. Former Korean Minister for Trade Bark Taeho, Roche Korea’s President Nic Horridge and Norway Energy Partners’ Director for Shipyards in Korea Gunn Vik were panelists while the Seoul Bureau Chief for the Economist Lena Schipper moderated the discussion. Minister Bark pointed out that the FTA utilization rate can be often lower than expected due to information asymmetry or bureaucratic costs. Ms Vik commented on the agreements’ effect on Norwegian businesses (notably seafood and shipbuilding). Mr Horridge also presented dramatic increase of bilateral trade in pharma, and outlined the necessity to move forward to personalized health care, a key pillar for human health and sustainability. Minister Bark commented that the Korea-UK FTA, the most modernized agreement for Korea, provides a more comprehensive set of cooperation framework. The panel agreed that the agreement should be expanded to include topics such as climate change, data flows/digital trade or labor issues. Finally, Minister Bark reminder that cooperation between institutes should be considered more, notably regarding exchanges on research between universities.