South Korea has more to offer than trade

24 March 2015

Seoul should be selling the GCC its economic miracle as the solution to industrial diversification

The recent visit to the GCC by South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was focused on ramping up the business links between the Asian peninsula state and its regional trading partners.

The economy is struggling in South Korea and the government in Seoul is keen to try to offset this by driving up exports. This was reflected in the spate of bilateral agreements signed during the trade mission.

There is no question that South Korean companies can become one of the foundation stones of the Middle East’s industrial diversification plans. The country is home to some of the world’s most recognisable brand names, companies that were virtually unknown 30 years ago.

Harnessing famous brands such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia and LG is important if young people are to be attracted to conversion industries focused on manufacturing electronics, automobiles or machinery and Seoul should be offering up opportunities to countries looking to build respective manufacturing bases.

Seoul has also built an impressive transport infrastructure throughout the country, with its own high-speed rail network, an enviable highway network and nuclear power generation. All of these sectors are being developed in the GCC and could benefit from South Korean expertise.

However, there has been criticism from certain quarters in South Korea about the economy-first diplomacy being promoted by President Park. Some academics believe Seoul should offer more support to the Middle East in terms of helping to solve the ongoing problems with terrorism and security.

The continued threat from North Korea and a commitment to defence means that South Korea has a well-equipped and highly trained army. An army that could offer support to the Middle East if called upon to do so.  

South Korea has the world’s 14th largest economy and has grown into the kind of knowledge-based economy Saudi Arabia is now spending hundreds of billions of dollars to emulate.

Signing trade agreements is a good start, but there is definitely a feeling with many people in Seoul that the business angle is just one of many disciplines where South Korea could benefit its most important trading partners.

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