SLOVAKIA and Korea, separated by 9,000 km, had been strangers until recent years. However, Slovakia is now the largest manufacturing hub and the most popular business partner in central Europe for many Korean businesses. More than 70 Korean companies, including KIA and Samsung, are manufacturing automobiles and electronic goods in Slovakia and exporting them to the larger European market. About 500 Koreans are working together with 20,000 Slovak employees in various Korean-owned factories. In addition, 2,000 Koreans are residing in Slovakia and 23,000 Koreans visited Slovakia last year.
Korea is now the 10th largest trading partner for Slovakia with last year’s volume exceeding $3.5 billion and the 8th largest foreign investor in Slovakia with a total investment of $2 billion. Last year these Korean companies contributed 10 percent of Slovakia’s GDP and 15 percent of the Slovak exports. In short, Korea and Slovakia have become indispensible and mutually beneficial economic partners.
In parallel with our booming economic ties, cooperation and exchanges in culture, education, media and tourism have also expanded greatly after signing of the Cultural Cooperation Agreement during Prime Minister Robert Fico’s visit to Korea in October 2007. From this spring, a native Korean professor is teaching Korean language, history and culture to students at Comenius University.
Slovakia and Korea have some similar historical experiences since both countries maintained their national identities and unique cultural heritages despite their locations at the crossroads of big powers. Both countries overcame handicaps of having few natural resources and became models for economic development and political transformation in short periods of time.
Slovakia succeeded in creating one of the best business-friendly environments in central Europe through a series of reform measures and integration with EU economies, culminating in it joining the Euro zone in 2009, the first among the central European countries. Its political stability, strategic location, flexible labour market, high labour productivity, attractive state incentives, and improving infrastructure will sustain it as one of the most attractive destination for major foreign investors, including Korean companies.
The forthcoming visit of the Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo to Slovakia will be a landmark in Korean-Slovak relations, as it is the first official visit to Slovakia by a Korean Prime Minister since the countries established diplomatic relations. In fact, his visit is long overdue considering the substantial ties between the two countries, as well as the fact that two Slovak prime ministers have already visited Korea.
The Korean Prime Minister will discuss with top Slovak officials how to further develop our already strong economic ties. We need to diversify our area of cooperation, which is currently focused on labour-intensive manufacturing industries, into more high value-added sectors such as science and technology, R&D, service industries, including tourism, and logistics.
Han will also explain the current situation on the Korean peninsula where tension has risen due to North Korea’s provocative acts of launching a long-range missile in early April and its following acts of defiance against the wishes of the international community. He will certainly share with the Slovak leaders the South Korean government’s policies to deal with this precarious situation.
His visit also provides good opportunities to exchange views and experiences on how to tackle the on-going global economic crisis. It is our common challenge as both countries are severely affected by the crisis due to our open and foreign trade-dependent economic structures.
Both governments share the view that protectionism in any form must be resisted and free trade must be encouraged to get us out of this global crisis. I am sure that Korea and Slovakia can learn from each other’s experiences and become the first countries to not only recover from this economic crisis but also to turn it into an opportunity to further strengthen their economies.
The Korean Prime Minister’s visit will provide fresh momentum to open a new chapter of cooperation in our already excellent relations which have been described by Prime Minister Robert Fico as a model for successful bilateral relations. Slovakia and Korea have a lot to share and many ways to cooperate in achieving our common goals of becoming leading advanced economies with knowledge-based societies.
Yong Kyu Park is the South Korean Ambassador to Slovakia.