From the ravages of its past, to the resilience of its present, and the robustness of its future, South Korea’s economy today is rightly hailed as miraculous.

So said Simon Appleton, CEO of Eastern Bridge Limited and Executive Director of the Korea New Zealand Business Council (KNZBC).

KNZBC and the North Asia CAPE proudly co-hosted Mr Appleton as part of the North Asia CAPE Tuesday Talk series. His talk, ‘The Forgotten Miracle: The South Korean economy, innovation, and opportunities for New Zealand’, examined the challenges and advantages of engaging with this important yet often overlooked market.

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Insights and advice for business

Dating back to when Kiwi soldiers fought with South Korea during the Korean War, Mr Appleton explained, the relationship between New Zealand and South Korea has been long and strong. “We can be optimistic about the relationship,” said Mr Appleton. “New Zealand is seen as a loyal friend to South Korea.”

New Zealand and Korea signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2015, and Korea is now New Zealand’s sixth-largest export market and fifth-largest international student market. Around 30,000 Koreans live in New Zealand, and more than 90,000 Korean tourists visit here each year. Korean international students' per capita spend in New Zealand is second only to students from Saudi Arabia. 

Mr Appleton acknowledged economic and trade challenges exist – but he maintained these challenges could well become opportunities. The food and beverage sector is a case in point: food safety and fresh food are important in Korea, and New Zealand is considered a leader in both these areas.

“While the economic value of trade between the countries hasn’t changed much since the FTA was signed in 2015, the composition of trade has changed, with New Zealand F&B exports increasingly dramatically. New Zealand kiwifruit and buttercup squash exports dominate the market, while avocado exports are growing rapidly. Other New Zealand F&B products are finding a place in Korea thanks to changing tastes in food and product consumption.”

Tourism and export education are also ripe for growth, with South Koreans’ interest in New Zealand being boosted by a variety of television shows and social media platforms showcasing the offerings in this country. For example, the reality TV shows ‘Dad! Where are we going?’ and ‘Where is my friend’s home?’ used camping trips and international friendships to spotlight New Zealand’s natural environment and modern lifestyles.

The biggest challenge, Mr Appleton concluded, lies in finding a way to redress the “uneven” investment relationship between the two countries. Simply put, that means New Zealand needs to be more proactive in encouraging South Korean companies to invest here. Although he acknowledged the challenge of geographical distance, Mr Appleton said he was confident New Zealand can improve its engagement with South Korea through active, informed efforts to engage with investors.

“The greatest hurdle is around information – ensuring South Korean companies have all they need to feel confident about investing here, from our tax laws to our minimum-wage rates to our transport costs. We don’t know what they don’t know – so we need to be proactive in finding out and communicating that information to them. In that way, New Zealand can start to become part of the South Korean economic miracle.”

Watch a series of videos from Simon Appleton's presentation at the North Asia CAPE Tuesday Talk:

Need to Know: The Forgotten Miracle of South Korea's economy

Need to Know: A guide for NZ businesses in South Korea

Need to Know: Business card etiquette in South Korea


Download Simon Appleton's PPT presentation: The Forgotten Miracle

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