Korea for more liberated trade agreement

The Ambassador of Republic of Korea, Mr. Cho Hyun is a strong proponent of increasing trade between India and Korea for which he feels there is a great potential. He is not satisfied with the bilateral trade figures even as he points out that Korean electronic gadgets are a household name in India. He is elated over the fact that the frequency of direct flights between India and Korea is going up following an air services agreement with New Delhi. THE BLUE MOON Editor, Amit Mittal spoke to Mr. Cho Hyun on issues that are close to his heart. Some excerpts of the talk :

At the Press Club of India in November last year you said, “The bilateral trade between India and the Republic of Korea is about 17 billion US dollars and the Korean investment is about 4.5 billion dollars. This is not the right number for the third largest economy in the world that is India and the fourth largest economy in Asia that is Korea.”

Bilateral trade had reached over $ 20.5 billion in 2011 and a target was set for $40 billion by 2015, but there was a downslide as per your figures. What do you think is the reason behind this drop in trade in spite of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) since 2010?

I think it is a global trend. Global trade has not grown as anticipated by us. Moreover, we are looking for more liberalized terms in CEPA for faster growth. Heavy import tariffs are hitting the trade. Those Korean companies that have manufacturing centres in India can compete in terms of prices. Samsung mobiles is an example. They can beat China in mobile handsets as they produce it here in India. Hyundai manufactures in India, not only for domestic consumption, but also for exports to other markets. We intend to achieve more. I am of the opinion that a further liberated trade agreement will benefit all of us.

Korean investments in India are around 4.5 billion dollars. How do you intend raising the investment figures?

Many Korean companies are considering investment in India taking advantage of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India.’ We have an efficient system of waste management, therefore we can be a partner in the ‘Clean India’ programme. We can also be partners in making smart cities in India, we have already made many taking advantage of highly developed IT sector. There are shipping projects coming from Hyundai soon. They are being negotiated.

I must say that we are blessed with Modi government’s attention to Korea.

What is the status of POSCO steel in Odisha?

POSCO is doubtful, but we are still aiming to have it. With POSCO land is an issue with some NGOs and farmers. There is no effective way found to sort the impasse.

India has extended visa-on-arrival (VoA) facility for Korean tourists from April 15, 2014. Has this been effective in increasing the number of travellers from Korea? Does Korea offer a similar facility to Indian visitors?

Visa on arrival is not well known in Korea. Travelling to Korea for business is not a problem. The visa regime between the two can still be made easier. We can do better for both the sides.

What about India’s exports to Korea?

Indian exports to Korea have not increased much. There are phyto-sanitary issues in the way of mango exports. There is a perception that Koreans are exporting to India, but we want to import from India.

Here I have a word of caution. People think that ‘India is a very difficult place to live’. There have been a dozen cases where Korean citizens have suffered criminal attacks in past several years. Back In Korea, it hurts the image of India. There must be more direct exchange of news between the two countries. From Korea there are correspondents from three major newspapers in Delhi, but there are none from Indian print media in Korea.

You had said, “We are strong supporters of fighting terrorism and in doing so we are strong collaborators of India as well. The attacks in Paris immediately reminded me of the terror strike in Mumbai. We have decided to work on these issues together with India.” How is Korea collaborating in this direction with India?

We share information on terrorism. We cooperate in cyber security. We have an observation unit this is how we are working together. Terrorism is a concern of many governments.

Korea offered to provide $10 billion financing to India for priority projects during the Indian PMs visit in May last year. What are the details of these projects shipbuilding, nuclear plants?

We have to discuss the funds for priority projects, on utilization and sectors where the money will be used.

Prime Minister Modi had offered to create a “Korea Plus” group to address all the issues raised by Korean companies in India. What are these issues? Are they affecting the growth of bilateral investments? Has such group been formed?

‘Korea Plus’ will be there in the Prime Minister’s Office in the first half of the year.

Has there been any path-breaking cooperation in defence and security between the two countries?

There has been no joint exercise.

Last month we heard of North Korea testing a hydrogen bomb; yesterday they are believed to have tested a inter-continental ballistic missile claiming it to be a satellite. How do you react to this situation which is causing tension in the region?

It is a satellite, but it has the same technology as a missile. We are not expecting any more sanctions against the North, but we are considering the missile blocking system from the US for security.

We believe that negotiations are better than any armed conflict. There can be spoilers, but we cannot fall victims to such distractions.