The following are details of an interview with Charge d'Affaires Olegs Ilgis of the Republic of Latvia in Seoul.?Ed.
Question: Please introduce yourself in detail, including your career, family and hobbies.
Answer: First of all, it is my pleasure to address the readers of The Korea Post and on behalf of the first resident Latvian Embassy in the Republic of Korea to thank for all the support and assistance we have received from our friends and partners in Korea to establish an Embassy and to commence its work on 15 September 2015. Specially, I would like to point out the assistance of Latvian Honorary Consul General in Korea Mr. Kyung-hoon Kwon, the Chairman of the Curo Group who was a long time representative of Latvia in Korea and who played a crucial role to lay a solid ground for the development of bilateral relations between Latvia and Korea.
It is also my true pleasure and honour to be the first Latvian diplomat to reside in Seoul and to make necessary arrangements to establish the first ever Latvian Embassy in Korea.
During almost 10 years of connection with Korea, I had a chance to visit this beautiful country a few times and always was impressed by the development and dynamism of the country. Before coming to Seoul, I was in charge of bilateral relations between Latvia and Korea at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia. I have witnessed the opening of Korean Embassy in Riga in 2012 and growth of Korea’s visibility in Latvia after that. In short period of time the Korean Embassy has done a brilliant job in introducing Korea to Latvian society and building new political, economic and cultural bridges between our countries. We hope to do the same in Korea and get Latvia known to wide circles of the Korean society.
I am staying in Seoul with my family who is my spouse and two children. As we have arrived just recently, we haven’t managed to explore and experience many things yet, but as we like outdoors, we have already visited a few places offering active sports facilities as ice hockey, cycling, walking, hiking and jogging. One of my hobbies is to explore UNESCO world heritage sites, so during our stay in Korea we hope to visit majority if not all of Korean UNESCO world heritage locations.
Q: Please introduce your National Day in detail.
A: National Day of Latvia is the day when Latvia has proclaimed its independence on 18 November 1918. This is a special day for our country when we commemorate the beginning of our statehood. That was a time 97 years ago when our predecessors were brave enough to proclaim the independence of the country in the circumstances where the country was still not free from the foreign military troops and foreign influence. But our grandfathers and grandmothers fought for our country believing that their dream of independence and freedom will become true. And this is what has happened and why we live today in a free and democratic country.
For any Latvian, 18 of November is the most important day in the history of Latvia. On this day we celebrate our independence, freedom, democracy and beginning of the statehood. Just want to highlight the fact that in a few years’ time, when Korea will be hosting the winter Olympic Games in the city of PyeongChang, Latvia will celebrate 100 years anniversary since its independence. We are glad Latvia and Korea will share big celebrations in the same year.
On 18 November, various events take place across the country. In the capital city Riga the celebration usually begins on the first half of the day with a parade and laying of flowers at the Freedom Monument with the participation of the President of Latvia and other high government officials. A parade of the National Armed Forces takes place in the afternoon. In the evening there are torchlight processions, and the celebration ends with magnificent fireworks over the River Daugava.
Q: What are the important developments scheduled between Korea and Latvia, including the possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea.
A: During last 5 years we have had extensive exchange of high level visits, including visit by Latvian Prime Minister to Korea, mutual visits by Speakers of both Parliaments, visit by members of Korean Parliament, visit by the Deputy Prime Minister of Korea to Latvia and few ministerial level visits. The most recent visit was paid by the Minister of Education and Science of Latvia Mrs. Marite Seile who visited Korea on 18-22 October 2015 on the occasion of the OECD ministerial meeting which took place in the city of Daejeon.
During the next 2-3 years we plan to keep the same track and also planning to organize mutual visits by both Presidents--though,the exact time schedule is yet to be decided in close consultations with Korean side.
Q: Please introduce your Head of Government in detail, including major achievements.
A: The Head of the State of the Republic of Latvia is the President H.E. Mr. Raimonds Vejonis. The President is an experienced politician who has an experience to work as a Minister of Environment for 9 years and Latvian parliamentarian for 4 years. Before being elected as the President of Latvia Mr. Vejonis was a Minister of Defence for almost two years.
The Head of the Government of the Republic of Latvia is the Prime Minister H.E. Mrs. Laimdota Straujuma who is the first lady to serve as the Prime Minister. Before becoming the Head of the Government, Mrs. Straujuma was a Minister of Agriculture and longtime high ranking official in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry for Regional Development and Local Government. The Prime minister holds PhD in Economics.
Q: What is the volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: The intensity of relations between the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Korea has increased in the last few years: a regular political dialogue is ongoing, trade volumes and people-to-people contacts are growing. A stable legal framework has been established for business cooperation. The EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement has been signed, the agreements between Latvia and Korea on double taxation and protection of investments are in force, and visa-free travel is in effect.
The total trade turnover of the countries amounted to 98 million EUR in 2014 and, given current trends, it is expected to exceed 100 million EUR this year. The most significant increase has been observed in the export of timber and wood products and mineral products. Meanwhile, Latvia is actively expanding cooperation in tourism.
Q: What are your competitive products attractive to Korea and what are Korean products that your country might wish to important?
A: According to the research made by one of the American universities Latvia is ranked as the second greenest country in the world. Half of the territory is covered by woods which make it the most valuable treasure in terms of natural resources of our country. Many companies have specialized in the production of wooden products for many decades and have polished their technichs to the highest world standards offering customers high added value goods and modern Northern European design. One can find unique furniture, flooring, wooden houses and industrially used products like plywood. For example, Latvian company “Latvijas Finieris” is one of the suppliers of plywood for Korean shipbuilders. The industry professionals say that only few companies in the world can produce plywood needed for LNG tankers construction. Latvijas Finieris is one of such companies. We also export unique products like classic style bicycles, wooden pallets, invisible glass and many others. Traditionally, we import automobiles, electronics and mobile industry related products from Korea. Samsung, LG, KIA and Hyundai are best known Korean brands in Latvia.
Our wish is to increase flow of goods by offering Korean market eko food products produced in Latvia and products of high added value manufactured by using modern technologies and state of art technics.
In the field of services we will pay our immediate attention on promoting tourism in both directions as well as will offer logistic solutions to serve shipments of Korea made goods to be delivered to European and CIS countries. IT will be also one of the areas to develop cooperation with Korea.
Q: What are the areas in Latvia where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A: Latvia offers a wide variety of competitive advantages for investors, which make Latvia a perfect place for doing business. These include cost effectiveness, a highly skilled workforce, well-developed infrastructure, and macroeconomic stability. Investors also enjoy easy accessibility to other markets in the region, as well as access to European Union Structural Funds.
There are eight target sectors where Latvia has most potential and expertise based on Latvia’s competitive advantages. We particularly focus on and see potential investment opportunities for foreign investments in the following sectors:
· Metalworking and mechanical engineering
· Transport and storage
· Information technology (including global business services)
· Green technology
· Health care
· Life sciences
· Food processing
Of those mentioned, we consider transport and storage as well as IT and R&D the most promising sectors for Korean investments in Latvia. In terms of R&D, Latvia is ideally located to serve as a hub of creating and testing new products produced by Korean companies in particularly close distance to the main sales markets in the EU and CIS.
We consider that Latvian businesses might be interested in investing in Korean high level technology related companies as well as IT industry.
Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?
A: Slogan for tourism in Latvia is “BEST ENJOYED SLOWLY”.
It is the pearl of the Baltic States situated in the North of Europe - on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Since ancient times Latvia has been at the crossroads between East and West, North and South. Therefore, Latvia is a multi-cultured state, where the traditions of all these countries have merged, creating a unique environment, the like of which is not to be found anywhere in the world. Tourists coming both from the West and East can experience a vast culture, historical heritage, nature, delicious foods and drinks, crafts and warm hospitality of Latvian people.
One can enjoy the history of more than 800 years by visiting UNESCO listed Old town of Riga which was founded in 1201 and at the same time relish the luxurious interiors of the 18th century by visiting Rundale Palace, one of the most outstanding architectural monuments in Latvia, often called “Baltic Versailles”. The cultural and historic heritage of Latvian architecture spans many centuries, from authentic rural homesteads to unique samples of wooden architecture, to luxurious palaces and manors, churches, and impressive Art Nouveau buildings. Forty per cent of buildings in the center of Riga belong to Art Nouveau, which is more than in other European cities. Moreover, art and architecture connoisseurs believe that it is in Riga that Art Nouveau found especially powerful and sweeping expression. Bunches of flowers, ornamentation, sinuous and undulating lines, antique beauty, sphinxes, gryphons and Cerberuses ? all these elements can be found on Art Nouveau buildings in Riga.
Q: Please add whatever other details that we might have left out from the questionnaire.
A: It should be mentioned that currently Latvian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea H.E. Mr. Normans Penke resides in Tokyo, however it is planned that Korea-based Latvian ambassador will arrive in Seoul early next year.