Hugo Swire – 2013 Speech on the UK and Korea


Below is the text of the speech made by the Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire on the UK and Korea. The speech was made at Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham on 5th February 2013.

Thank you to our sponsors, British Airways, who have re-opened a direct route to South Korea – which makes a big difference. And thanks also to our colleagues from PwC and KOTRA.

Good morning and welcome to ‘Opportunity Korea week’. It is a real pleasure to be here at Edgbaston, one of England’s most famous cricket grounds.

As my colleague the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, outlined at the opening of ‘Opportunity Korea’ week last night in London, Korea is a country that is full of opportunities.

I saw these opportunities for myself when I visited Korea last October – my first visit to Asia as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister. I saw the country’s dynamism and creativity; a Korea whose ingenuity and sheer energy has propelled it to become the 12th largest economy in the world.

Scott Wightman, our Ambassador in Seoul, had just taken up his post. The fact that I had made a dedicated visit and was not travelling on to anywhere else showed how important South Korea is to us.

If we are to get ahead of our competitors and meet the Chancellor’s ambitious target to increase the value of our annual exports to £1 trillion by 2020, then British companies have to look to countries like Korea – which is a truly remarkable example of a sustainable and knowledge-based economy.

Our trade with Korea is already growing, so we have a strong basis for further growth. British non-oil-related exports to Korea were up 16 percent in January to November 2012, compared to the year before. That is not altogether surprising – more and more British companies are choosing to enter the market and I met a number of their representatives during my visit.

But I am convinced we are not yet taking full advantage of the opportunities on offer. I believe more of our fantastic SMEs could be exploiting the benefits of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which is eliminating tariffs on 97 percent of all goods by July 2014. This represents a huge market for you. I want to see more British companies building on the success of firms like Delcam and MIRA here in the West Midlands; or firms like Bonnie Baby, Harris Tweed and Lye Cross Farm, a West Country cheese maker which has increased its sales to Korea by 50 percent in the last year with help from UKTI and our Embassy in Seoul.

You are all here because you are either already active in Korea or because you want to learn more about the opportunities. I hope that after this week of events there will be enough of you to go on a trade mission. I hope that those of you with experience in the market will share what you’ve learned with the newcomers. For my part, some of the points I find particularly striking are:

Korean consumers like British brands and love British design;

Secondly, the EU’s Free Trade Agreement with Korea is the most ambitious of its kind to date, and could be worth over £500 million per year to the UK economy if British companies take full advantage of it;

Thirdly, Korea has established global brands – there is probably not a household in the UK without a Korean product in it – and if UK companies work with these brands, through them they will be able to gain access to other significant markets;

And last but not least, Korea wants to do business with us; they hold British brands, products and expertise in high regard.

Diplomatic relations build trade – the more you understand each other, the easier it is to do business. This year is the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Korea. To mark the occasion, we are working to establish a Joint Economic and Trade Committee, or JETCO, with our Korean partners. The Committee will look at tackling market access issues and creating mutual business opportunities. This is but one of the areas the Government is prioritising, which reflects the importance we place on doing more business with Korea.

Today is the second of five days of events across the UK as part of Opportunity Korea week. But Opportunity Korea doesn’t end on Friday. All of you will have the chance to join an outward trade mission to Korea during the next 12 months when UKTI Seoul will be able to put together a tailored programme of visits with Korean buyers, distributors and agents to help you break into or develop your position in the Korean market.

Some of the great global brands were set up by British businesses going to the four corners of the globe. Some bigger companies think they can do this themselves, but I still think it is wise to use the expertise of UKTI.

I hope that you will get a lot out of today’s event. Please take the time to talk with the Scott and his team. Take advantage of the presence here today of Gary Harte and Steve Duckworth, both of them working for successful British businesses in Korea and able to tell you about the intricacies of doing business. Talk to Henry An from PwC Korea who can offer expert advice on the legal and regulatory environment. And if you’re considering investing in Korea, make sure you talk to one of the representatives from KOTRA.

I have responsibility for a large part of the world in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and I don’t know if it is because I visited Seoul first, but I was struck by the opportunities.