Seong Hoa Hong – South Korea Ambassador to Mexico

WHAT IS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF MEXICO AS RECENTLY NAMED AMBASSADOR OF SOUTH KOREA TO MEXICO?

Since the first time I came to Mexico nine months ago, I have already visited 16 states and every time I visit a new one I realize how big Mexico is and that it is a great country that features many kinds of resources and has great diversity. All this gives an excellent potential for development and I know that Mexicans are a very open and generous people. Mexico is a very dynamic place.

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN OF ACTION TO DEVELOP AS AMBASSADOR IN TERMS OF STRENGTHENING THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SOUTH KOREA AND MEXICO?

I would start by prioritizing the following tasks, to begin with deepening and expanding strategic relationships that link our two countries. I would revitalize mechanisms of dialogue and economic, political and cultural consultation between their respective counterparts in the government responsible for these areas in our respective countries. Another thing would be to resume and conclude negotiations for reaching a Free Trade Agreement between Mexico and Korea. Then I would work to establish a direct flight between the two countries and at the same time we should be encouraging a higher cultural and academic exchange between the two nations.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE DIPLOMATIC RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SOUTH KOREA AND MEXICO?

The relationship between our countries is excellent. Mexico is first as a strategic partner for Korea in Latin America and our countries coincide in many and diverse themes. This dynamic relationship is what inspires us to work jointly in the bilateral and multilateral areas.

This is why, in the framework of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Korea, we have planned several commemorative events reaffirming the importance of the relationship between us. In January, for instance, we printed a commemorative postal stamp to remember those 50 years. Again in February we featured an important sample of Korean cinema in Mexico City. And the recent 8th of March, one week after my arrival to Mexico, we inaugurated the Third Encounter of Korean Studies in Mexico at the University of Nayarit. We also realized a magnum Cultural Korean Festival in Mexico City. Together we inaugurated the Cultural Korean Center in this Capital, and this is an institution that we expect to bring ever nearer our communities. There were many visits to Mexico including the Korean Exhibition Team of Taekwondo. Also, a fleet of Korean naval instruction ships arrived.

In addition to this the visits and encounters between authorities from the two governments have increased, including visits by both Presidents. We have resumed the consultation and dialogue mechanisms. Both were pending for a number of years, for instance, there is the Joint Commission for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. Another one is the Committee for Cultural and Educational Cooperation.

There is also strong collaboration on important global themes such as promoting Green growth, the mutual combat against climate change, as well as cooperation on economic development, nuclear security and even UN reform. I am happy to affirm that throughout these 50 years, the relationship between Mexico and Korea has never had an up or down, it has been always been steadily improving.

WHICH AREAS OF OPPORTUNITY DO YOU SEE IN TERMS OF STRENGTHENING RELATIONS BETWEEN SOUTH KOREA AND MEXICO?

Several exchanges of visits and meetings were made between officials of the two Governments, including the two Mandatories. This year, for example, they met to discuss a theme for the future potential relationship between the two countries. To be more speci fic, just recently a number of mixed commissions were created to expand economic, scientific and technological cooperation, in addition to deepening the excellent educative and cultural cooperation that already exists.

By means of these meetings both parties have been able to identify possible areas of cooperation. We can increase our commerce and the investment between the two countries, for instance, and in a short time everybody knows about the potential for more cooperation in matters of science and technology between the relevant institutions in the two countries. In terms of the environment, cooperation for economic development, exchange of young people and academic and cultural exchange, Mexico and Korea face big areas of opportunity just waiting to be exploited.

HOW HAS THE COMMERCE BETWEEN MEXICO AND SOUTH KOREA EVOLVED IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS?

In the year 2011 Korea ranked Mexico’s as its 6th most important partner. Mexico was 17th as a purchaser and 4th as supplier. Commerce between Mexico and Korea has increased 306% going from US$3.74 billion in 2001 to US$15.19 billion in 2011. This represents an average annual growth of 15%.

Mexican exports to Korea registered a 629% growth from US$208.6 million in 2001 to US$1.5 billion in 2011. This is an average annual growth rate of 22%. Meanwhile, imports grew 286.9% from US$3.5 billion to US$13.66 billion in 2011, for an average annual growth of 15.5%.

The main products exported from Mexico to Korea are: mineral resources such as lead, zinc, steel, copper. And agricultural products exported include beef and pork. Meanwhile, Korea exports to Mexico mainly flat screens, color television parts, electronics, auto parts, memories, and modular circuits. These items are mostly components or intermediary products used by the Korean companies already established in Mexico for manufacture of their final products.

It is important to comment that just last year Mexico exported automobiles to Korea with a value totaling US$44 million. This accomplishment shows the great potential for diversification of Mexican products exported to Korea. Because the investment from Korean Companies keeps growing in Mexico and Mexico continues to increase and diversify more and more of its exports to the Asia Pacific Region, the commerce between Mexico and Korea will certainly grow as well. This is really beneficial to both partners.

WHAT ROLE DOES MEXICO PLAY IN REGARD TO SOUTH KOREAN INVESTMENT FOR NORTH AMERICA?

For Mexico, Korea is the 2nd largest Asiatic investor. More than 1,500 Korean companies established in Mexico have made important investments in a number of industries such as electronics, energetic, renewable energies, steel, mining, automotive parts, textiles and agriculture employing over 50,000 Mexicans.

A fact that helps us illustrate the importance of Korean investment in Mexico is that in the year 2011, the exports from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics reached US$9.2 billion. This represents 2.6% of the total exports from Mexico. The totals when added up of all the commerce between Mexico and Brazil in 2011 was US$9.45. The total sales of the Korean Companies in Mexico were 1.4% of Mexico’s GDP for the same year (2011).

Mexico is the platform to venture into the NAFTA market. Taking the advantages that Mexico offers investors, for example, its juridical stability plus highly qualified labor force, its strategic geographic location, along with its growing importance in the world, and it can be expected that the investment of Korean companies in Mexico will keep growing.

WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT OF THE INSTALLATION OF HYUNDAI FOR THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY IN MEXICO?

Hyundai has made important investments in auto part plants in Tijuana and San Luis Potosi. This is a direct contribution to automotive industry development in Mexico. I have the understanding that there has been no announcement of the installation of an assembly plant to fabricate a complete car. But taking into notice the increase in the importance of Mexico in the automotive industry worldwide, I believe that the interest of Hyundai to keep investing in Mexico will increase in the near future.

WHAT IS THE LEVEL OF SATISFACTION OF THE SOUTH KOREAN COMPANIES WITH THEIR OPERATIONS IN MEXICO?

Since my arrival to Mexico, I have visited several states where Korean companies have established operations. I have also had multiple get together with directors of the Korean companies who are doing really good business in Mexico. The reaction of the Korean companies is that generally they feel quite satisfied with the conditions that Mexico offers to do business.

The juridical stability, qualified labor force, the closeness to the largest market in the world and the support of the Federal and State Governments make Mexico even more attractive. I am also quite certain that the noteworthy efforts carried out by the Mexican Government in order to put the matter of public security in order, will also be an especially important incentive for foreign investment, including the Korean.

ANY LAST COMMENT FOR THE MEXICONOW SUBSCRIBERS?

Yes, thank you for asking. As we see it Mexico and Korea are important partners and they coincide on several themes where work can be done jointly in a number of bilateral and multilateral ways. However, we somewhat come up short regarding an increase in mutual knowledge. So, we need to put make additional effort to motivate interest in each other.

Visits by the Koreans to Mexico keep increasing and I hope that the Mexicans also visit Korea. It is a wonderful place where they will always be welcome. Finally, I want to wish a very prosperous 2013 to all the MexicoNOW readers.