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[Herald Interview] Korea-UK FTA talks to foster business opportunities

Northern Ireland seeks to attract Korean firms with ‘dual market access’

Aug. 1, 2023 - 17:53 By Shim Woo-hyun
From left: Nick Caldwell, Asia-Pacific head of Invest Northern Ireland, British Ambassador to South Korea Colin Crooks and Steve Harper, executive director of international business at Invest Northern Ireland, pose for a picture during an interview with The Korea Herald held at the British Embassy in Seoul, Thursday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Northern Ireland may not have always been a priority market for South Korean firms seeking overseas expansion, but the country has great potential to become an attractive investment destination in the near future, taking advantage of upcoming new free trade talks between Korea and the UK.

“We will be starting to renegotiate the UK-Korea Free Trade Agreement this autumn. We already have a free trade agreement that we inherited from the (European Union) but will now be renegotiating that, to suit the UK and Korean economies,” said Colin Crooks, the British Ambassador to South Korea during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Thursday.

The ambassador pinned high hopes on the FTA talks to spur new business opportunities in the regional economy overall, especially in new areas such as digital trade and renewable energy.

Northern Ireland is one of the countries that will benefit directly from the enhanced economic partnership between Korea and the UK.

“Northern Ireland is an (small and medium enterprises) economy, and we would like to see Korean SMEs come to Northern Ireland to take advantage of the dual market access (to both the UK and the EU) that we have, and vice versa,” said Steve Harper, executive director of international business at Invest Northern Ireland, an economic development agency for the country.

Harper visited Seoul last week to meet potential investors and discuss partnerships. He declined to further elaborate on the meetings, citing the sensitivity of the bilateral partnership.

He noted that Northern Ireland offers diverse business opportunities for Korean investors, boasting a quality labor pool with engineering skill sets, among others.

Northern Ireland is a market leader in the production of mobile crushing and screen equipment, making up almost 40 percent of global production, while the country also produces about 30 percent of airline seats worldwide.

The Winsor Framework, which was agreed upon in February to ease the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, is also expected to help attract more Korean firms to set up manufacturing facilities or sell products there.

According to Harper, Northern Ireland will also look for Korean companies that can complement the country’s push for a green transition, marked by the nation’s extensive use of renewable energy sources, particularly wind power.

Last year, more than half of the electricity used in Northern Ireland came from renewable sources, of which wind power accounted for more than 85 percent.

Harper hinted that the country is also seeking to team up with Korean firms in the field of hydrogen fuel, saying the country has a growing hydrogen economy.

In terms of life science, Northern Ireland is also ready to offer expertise across precision medicine, clinical trials and digital health, said Nick Caldwell, the agency’s Asia-Pacific head.

“Our strengths are med tech, vitro diagnostics and data analytics,” he said.

Harper said the country plans to hold the Northern Ireland Investment Summit in the coming months, with several Korean firms being invited.

Korea and Northern Ireland have continued to enhance ties in increasingly diverse areas. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute recently signed a contract to purchase electric propulsion systems for its satellites from Belfast-based Thales Alenia Space UK. In March, the administrative city of Sejong also agreed with the Belfast City Council to foster research and development collaboration in the future.