By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with Reporters Jung-mi Kim, Youngwoong Lee
Ambassador Damir Kusen of the Republic of Croatia in Seoul said, “My country highly welcomes any interest of Korean companies for direct investments, either in Croatian infrastructure, transport or energy sector, car manufacturing facilities, electronics, or in the tourist or hotel industry.”
Speaking at an exclusive interview Ambassador Kusen had with Publisher Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media at the Embassy in Seoul on Jan. 3, 2019, together with the editorial entourage of the five media outlets Lee operates for the past 34 years, Ambassador added, “With more than 18 million foreign tourists that have visited Croatia this year, this is certainly an area of high possible profitability and the huge business potential.”
Ambassador Kusen discussed a wide of range topics with The Korea Post representatives that day, which included the areas where Croatia wanted Korean businesses to invest, official and personal details of the President of Croatia, important development scheduled between the two countries, and various other areas of interest to the two countries, including tourism where Croatia appeared to be especially strong among all industries of the country. Details of the interview follow:
Question: Would you further elaborate on our question, “What are the areas where you want Korean companies to invest in your country?”
Answer: Croatia has traditionally had good knowledge of technology and engineering and welcomes any initiative for the joint ventures or the Korean manufacturing companies that might find interest to be set up in Croatia.
The Samsung Engineering regional office based in Zagreb is responsible for 8 countries in the region and surely with the good experience of working in Croatia and this part of Europe. The Embassy is keen to present the business potential and investment opportunities to all other Korean companies.
The Croatian shipyards, with the long tradition and knowledge, are looking for strategic partners. The Croatian ports are open for any kind of cooperation, either in investments in the port facilities, top management cooperation, joint ownership, or the exclusive lease of the large storage areas suitable for big distribution centers.
There is also a very mutually beneficial Cooperation agreement between the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development – HABOR and the Korean Export-Import Bank – KEXIM, and the Korean Export Insurance Cooperation – KEIC.
Very important role in promoting trade and business between our two countries have Kotra and the Korean Embassy in Zagreb with a very active role of H.E. Ambassador Park Won-sup.
There is also the Croatian Korean Business Club based in Zagreb and chaired by Mr. Zoran Horvat, who is an expert in business promotion and with the long-term professional ties with Korea. I am confident that we will, working together, upgrade our trade and business relations to completely new level.
Q: What is the volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: Croatia is a relatively small market when compared with the big European countries. Our trade exchange is around 250 million USD per year, with the imbalance in favor of Korea. Encouraging our business and trade links is surely my priority and I am confident that we will manage to significantly increase the trade volume between our two countries. Croatia as a new European Union Member State has very competitive sea-ports that could be far more used by the Korean cargo vessels as the closest gateway to bring the goods to the huge European Union free market with more than 500 million people. In the recent years, other Asian and Pacific countries, more and more use this better transport opportunity and I believe that Korean companies will also recognize this potential. Also, the Croatia is, due to an attractive geographic location, very open for offering the large sites that might be used as the distribution hubs for any Asian or Pacific companies.
Scroll down for the pictures of the picturesque tourist attractions in Croatia
One of the international airport in Eastern Croatia (Osijek), specialized for cargo planes is just a few hours drive from the number of European capitals (Zagreb, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava, Sarajevo, Belgrade).
Q: What are your competitive products and services attractive to Korea and what are Korean products and services that your country might wish to import from Korea?
A: Some Croatian companies already export a variety of the Croatian food products to Korea. There is a strong interest to export the certain electric parts, especially for the electro and wind plants and turbines, radio-electronics, but also furniture, and wood products. Croatia is a world-class producer of the modular helmets that might be used either in the military and police, or for the special purpose in mining industry, forestry or building industry.
The autonomous vehicles and robots, specialized for the cleaning the landmines in conflict zones around the world and areas where the emergency rescue team could not enter, is another top world quality product of Croatia. Rimac electric sport cars are among the best and the fastest in the world (Ex. Concept One). In the ICT sector, Croatia has developed rapidly emerging industry, especially with the program solutions, software development, and digital applications. Croatia has introduced the mobile-telephone payment parking system in 2001, and extended this service to many other countries. We would very glad to present to the Korean market some food delicatessen products from Croatia, like truffles, olive products and herbs used in pharmaceutical industry and medicine.
Croatia is importing from Korea cars, telecommunication equipment, machinery, and of course electronics. Croatian shipping companies have already ordered a number of top quality vessels from the Korean shipyards.
Q: What are the important developments scheduled between Korea and your country, including the possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea in the near future?
A: In late October, we had a formal opening of the new Croatian Embassy in Seoul, and the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs. Marija Pejčinović-Burić was in an official visit to Korea. We had the very substantive meetings with the Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs. Kang Kyung-wha, the Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, and the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Joo Seung-yong.
In December the Korean Parliamentary delegation was in Croatia and also the representatives of the MOFA visited the Croatian Foreign Ministry. In the middle December, we have had the official visit of the Croatian Minister of Labor and Employment, who signed the bilateral agreements of cooperation. I think that the political dynamism of relations between our two friendly countries is indeed very good and in all areas.
Q: Please introduce in detail your Head of Government (Executive Branch), the First Lady and the First Family, including his major achievements.
A: Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democratic state with the unicameral parliament, the President as the head of state and the Prime Minister as the head of Government.
The Prime Minister of Croatia is Mr. Andrej Plenković, also the president of the Croatian Democratic Union, the largest political party in Croatia. He has a reach international and diplomatic experience, and he was a Member of the European Parliament. The President or the Head of State is Mrs. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, also with the long and prestigious foreign service career (former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Croatian Ambassador to the USA), but also the Assistant Secretary General of NATO.
Q: As Your Excellency is new in Korea, please introduce yourself to the fullest possible extent, including your career, family and hobbies.
A: I feel very privileged to be appointed as the first resident ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the Republic Korea. I am career diplomat and I have joined the Croatian Foreign Service in early 1992. Since then, I have served in a number of countries. First, in mid 1990s I have been posted as a junior diplomat to London, then as a Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, DC, following by the ambassadorial posts in Helsinki and Canberra.
I have arrived in Seoul three months ago, coming from Canberra, where I have served as the Croatian Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand.
Between two posts I have been working in the Foreign Ministry in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, working in different departments. For a few years I was also the Assistant Minister for Europe, North America and relations with the European Union and NATO.
I was in charge to prepare the accession negotiations for the Croatian membership in the European Union and responsible for the chapters related to the Foreign, Security and Defense policy and for the External Economic Relations. For two years I was also the Chair of the Board of the Croatian Institute for International Relations.
As a person who believe that the whole our life is a process of learning, I have continued my post graduate education in London, reaching the MA in Diplomacy at the Westminster University, and then a Ph.D. from the King’s College in London.
My hobbies are also not far from my long-term love for diplomacy and international relations, including a lot of reading and studying the topics of the crisis and conflict management, reconciliation and confidence building after the violent conflicts and wars, inter-ethnic relations, but also the process of democratic transition, mainly based on the first-hand experience of Croatia and the Eastern and Central Europe after the collapse of the Communism.
One of my favorite topics is also the comparison of the national innovation systems, and how to build the innovative environment by utilization of knowledge, science and high-technology in society.
I am particularly supporter of the renewable energy and smart city concept, and very keen to learn more about the Korean experience and possible cooperation with the Croatia and Europe. During my diplomatic post in Canberra, I installed the 30 Kw PV solar system at the roof of the Croatian Embassy and based on the PPP model, and I am glad to say that a number of other countries’ diplomatic missions have followed my example.
Actually, we have turned Canberra in the Solar Embassy Capital of the World, with the largest number of foreign Embassies that harvest the solar energy.
When I managed to have more time, I am passionate to enjoy the beautiful nature and landscape photography. Korea is a country blessed by the amazingly beautiful nature I am very keen to have more time and enjoy in these beauties.
Regarding my family, I am married to Loreta who is also a career diplomat and we have a daughter who has just turned 18, and she is finishing high school and preparing for the further university education.
Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?
A: I am very glad to note that in 2018, more than a half million of Korean tourists paid a visit to Croatia, what is almost 12 percent of the Croatian total population. This is a marvelous trend, supported in addition by the newly open direct flight by Korean Air from Seoul to Zagreb, from 1 September last year, three times a week. In the next few months, we are planning to open the Croatian National Tourist Board Office in Seoul, with the ambitious agenda and an appropriate budget for their promotional activities. A number of Korean travel agencies offer Croatia as an attractive tourist destination. Korean tourists could enjoy in the Croatia’s reach historical and cultural heritage, beautiful landscapes, crystal blue Adriatic Sea with the thousands of islands.
The most popular destination for the Korean tourists is the old city of Dubrovnik, as the Pearl of Adriatic and town protected by UNESCO, where The Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Robin Hood movies were filmed. But this is also a city where the Korean famous travel realty show Sister over Flowers is filmed. The Croatian basic coastline along the Adriatic Sea is 1,700 km long with the numerous ancient cities, beautiful beaches and quality food and wine.
The town of Split is 1,700 years old, established by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and his palace is still preserved in the city. An hour drive from the town of Split or two hours from Zagreb is the Plitvice Lakes National Park, water-complex area set in deep woodland, protected by UNESCO as the unique natural heritage with 16 lakes mutually interconnected by the waterfalls, and extended into a river and beautiful limestone canyon.
The Korean tourists also like to visit the capital of Croatia – Zagreb that was for the last three years proclaimed as the No 1 European Advent destination.
In the Northern Part of Adriatic coast is a port city of Pula with the ancient Roman Amphitheater built in the first century and still regularly used as a concert hall, with the world top music performers coming every summer.
It would be really an excellent idea if the famous K-pop group BTS could eventually have a concert in this old Roman Amphitheater, but this is just an idea that should be, hopefully, recognized by their professional managers.
Q: Please add whatever other details that we might have left out from the questionnaire.
A: I am particularly interested to extend our bilateral cooperation in the area of education, science and technology. Already, we have six agreements between the Croatian and the Korean universities, encouraging the student exchange and overall cooperation.
Next week, Zagreb University (established in 1664) will also sign the agreement with Seoul National University, and I am indeed looking forward to pay a visit to a number of other Korean universities and tray to facilitate our academic cooperation. I am certainly impressed by the world-class quality of the Korean Universities and, the high importance of education in the overall value system in your country.
Perfect education, as you have in Korea, is the best possible platform for prosperity and development, and a crucial basis for an effective comprehensive national innovation system.
I think that we are all impressed with the miracle transition of Korea, in one generation, from devastated country to the one of the leading world economies, vibrant society, and remarkable culture. Korea is, for sure, an excellent model country for many other states, and I am privileged to learn more and share your extraordinary experience and the overall success.
We have, indeed, just opened the Embassy, but Croatian-Korean relations are very friendly for many years. We are very grateful to Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Croatia, Mr. In-Mo Yang, who has had a crucial role in extending and deepening the Korean-Croatian relations for more than ten years.
With his highly respectable top business career as the previous Samsung Electronics top executive, and his prestige knowledge, experience and social network, both our countries have really benefitted from his sincere efforts and initiatives to bring Korea and Croatia closer together, with our bilateral relations based on the shared values, frank cooperation and friendship.