One of the most rewarding parts of my job as Ambassador is helping British companies benefit from the huge range of opportunity this country has to offer. In almost any industry and any sector you can think of, British companies have products, services and capabilities that South Korea wants and needs.
South Korea has a developed economy, impressive industrial capabilities, unsurpassed IT infrastructure and knowledgeable and sophisticated consumers who are generally well-disposed to the UK, and associate quality with our products and services. The EU/Korea Free Trade Agreement launched in 2011 has helped immensely in boosting bilateral trade and creating a stronger environment for greater commercial collaboration. Through lower tariff and non-tariff barriers, companies have been able to capture opportunities that had not previously existed resulting in UK exports to Korea to increase dramatically.
The UK has, of course, chosen to leave the European Union, and now one of our key tasks is to preserve the benefits that have flowed from the EU-Korea FTA. Although the process of departing the EU undeniably presents uncertainty for all, both the UK and South Korea have a strong interest in finding a path through to a new arrangement which preserves the benefits for both sides. Towards the end of last year, the United Kingdom hosted a very successful UK-Korea JETCO in London, which has initiated quarterly UK-Korea Trade Working Group meetings to work through the technical issues and identify a way forward. The existing EU-Korea FTA will continue to apply to the UK until the UK leaves the EU, which will be two years after the Article 50 trigger. So in many ways it is business as usual and the British government’s ambitious target of seeing 100,000 new companies export by 2020 is still very much on the agenda. As the 11th largest economy in the world, South Korea will continue to be a key market in helping us achieve that goal.
I am delighted that our formal partnership with the BCCK has been such a success. Over the past couple of years, the BCCK has truly gone from strength to strength, providing high quality business advice to British companies seeking to enter the Korean market. These services, along with the BCCK’s active role in hosting events and participating in trade missions, has created an ever more solid business platform for British business in Korea, enabling my team to devote more of our resources to areas such as market access, trade policy and regulatory work, which will take on more importance in the coming months and years.
There is a busy year ahead for us all. And it is an important year for bilateral relations: the UK-Korea Year of Creative Futures, which will see a number of cultural, artistic and educational events across the country. I encourage BCCK members to get involved in the programme.
Although there are challenges as well as opportunities in doing business in Korea, I am confident that by continuing to work together closely, the Embassy team and BCCK members will do everything possible to support UK business in Korea.