2020 is the 70th anniversary of the bilateral diplomatic relationship between Korea and Spain.
King Felipe VI, the Spanish king even visited South Korea and met with President Moon Jae-in last October to discuss strengthening cooperation between the two countries in tourism and overseas construction markets.
According to Cheong Wa Dae, the two leaders agreed that the two countries have developed "close, friendly and cooperative relations" in various fields, including politics, economy, culture and people-to-people exchanges, since the establishment of formal diplomatic ties in 1950.
The Korea Post interviewed Juan Ignacio Morro Villacian, Spanish Ambassador to Korea on Feb. 18th, 2020 to hear more about how the Chamber is contributing to bond the two countries.
Excerpts from the interview with Ambassador Villacian follow:
Question: As Your Excellency, please introduce yourself in detail, including your career, family and hobbies.
Answer: I was so glad to have the opportunity to come to Korea as an Ambassador because I am very fond of this country. In fact, I came here in July 1994, more than 25 years ago, and I worked three years at the Embassy. When somebody moves to another country normally needs some months to settle down, but in my case it took me just a week. I have seen great change in all aspects and Korea has become one of the richest of the world. Since then, I also worked at other embassies and diplomatic missions in Russia, Switzerland, United States and China.
I have a great family with two daughters and one son. They study abroad nowadays although they all come to Seoul for Christmas. That makes me very happy!
Q: About the State Visit….
A: This State Visit, the first one after 24 years ago, marks the start of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and Spain. Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain had an intense agenda related to political, institutional, economic, multiraletal, cultural, social and technological fields.
On the political side HM the King and President Moon Jae-In had a very interesting meeting at the Blue House, and two MOU’s on trade and tourism were signed in their presence. At the trade level, HM the King had an encounter also with the leaders of prominent Korean conglomerates, followed by a Spain-Korea Economic Forum which gathered more than 300 entrepreneurs from both countries, who discussed about the great possibilities that Spain offers in many economic sectors. HM the King also held a meeting with the former United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. He then visited the National Assembly and the Seoul City Hall, where Their Majesties received the Honorary Citizenship of the capital in a very beautiful ceremony. They also went to a technological center, followed by two receptions, one with outstanding professors and hispanists and another one with the Spanish community.
During the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Korea a Spain we will carry out a suitable cultural program, including a concert to commemorate this anniversary on June 3rd at the Seoul Arts Center. There will be other cultural activities such as a Film Festival, an art exhibition, a language congress, gastronomy events and an Opera film weekend, among others.
Q: Could you tell us about the strongest impact of Spain culture and sport in the world?
A: Culture is undoubtedly one of the most valuable aspects of Spain’s worldwide projection and identity. We have fantastic places like the Córdoba Mosque, the Alhambra in Granada, the modernism of Gaudí in Barcelona, the city of Toledo and “The Way to Santiago”. We also offer our literature with El Quijote and so many masterpieces, or the paints of Velázquez, Goya, Dalí and Picasso; and our gastronomy with the taste of paella, gazpacho and wine. They are all part of the DNA of a country whose cultural influence is very alive. Regarding our language, Spanish is the second largest mother tongue in the world (over 577 million speakers) and it is the official language in 21 countries. Moreover, with such an extensive, rich history, it is no surprise that UNESCO has recognized 47 places in Spain as World Heritage Sites.
One of the most popular assets of Spain in Korea is gastronomy. Nowadays, many Spanish restaurants are open in Korea with a diversity of Spanish dishes. Some years ago Paella was the most popular one, and still is, but these days the diversity of our health and delicious diet are very well-known.
In terms of sports, our athletes and teams are very popular all around the world because of their competitiveness and values. Not only in football (Iniesta, Sergio Ramos…), but also in basketball (Gasol brothers), in tennis (Rafa Nadal), F1 (Fernando Alonso), watersports, etc.
Q: Nowadays, economic cooperation is very important between the countries. Who are the major Korean companies actively engaged in bilateral economic cooperation? Please introduce them in detail in the order of size and scale of business activities.
A: Since the entry into force of RoK – EU FTA in 2011 to date, our bilateral trade relations, including goods and services, have doubled, reaching a global amount exceeding 6 billion euros, showing a consistent progress along this period. Korea is already our third export market in Asia and is considered and treated as an strategic partner by Spain.
Having said that, we are convinced of our potential to reach even higher levels of cooperation in our bilateral relations, not only in commercial terms but also in areas such as tourism and culture.
We already have a good cooperation between construction and engineering companies of both countries in co-financing and developing infrastructure projects on third markets, but there is a clear scope to increase our current level of collaboration.
As far as mutual investment is concerned, the figures are relatively low, not yet in accordance to the level of our economies and commercial relations, although we see an upward trend in recent years. The main sectors for current Korean investment in Spain are electronics, automotive, real estate, transport and logistics.
Some of the major Korean conglomerates have a relevant presence in the Spanish market, namely Samsung Electronics, SK Group, LG Electronics, Korean Airlines, GS Engineering & Construction, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Dongbu Daewoo Electronics, KIA Motors, Macrogen, to mention just some of them.
Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A: We see clear opportunities for a fruitful cooperation and mutual investment in both countries in areas such as renewable energy, automotive sector, transport and logistics, Smart cities, new technologies related to Industry 4.0, tourism, culture and education, to mention the most relevant ones.
Given the high level of expertise and internationalization achieved by construction and engineering companies from both countries, we strongly believe there are great opportunities to strengthen and deepen our current collaboration for a joint undertaking of infrastructure projects on third markets. Spain could serve as an excellent platform for Korean companies interested to enter into Latin American markets whereas Korea is a very good partner for Spanish companies willing to have a stronger presence in Asia.
At the same time, both countries share a common interest in developing joint projects in Africa, Australia or Middle East markets. We should be able to take advantage of this potential.
Q: What are your competitive products and/over services attractive to Korea and what are the Korean products and services that your country might wish to important?
A: I have to make reference in that respect to a number of factors making Spain an attractive destination for foreign investment, including start-ups, ICT companies and other innovative industries. Let me mention some of them:
a.The size of the market
We are already 47 million consumers, receiving last year more than 83 million tourists, and providing access to the EU market, which means a market area of more than 500 million consumers -with an average disposable income of over €30.000-, free movement of goods, services, capital and persons, and even a single currency within the Eurozone.
But it is not only a question of size but also its dynamism: the unparalleled economic turn-around that has been taking place and how strongly the economic expansion is being sustained –with a strong job creation and large competitiveness gains. Spain has become the fastest growing economy among the largest economies in the Eurozone. For the last years Spain has been focused on getting its fiscal stance in order and on the implementation of a broad agenda of reforms; and these efforts are paying off. Spain is now a more open, more competitive and more resilient economy. The growth forecast for 2020 indicates that Spain will follow the same trend.
b.Hub for third countries
Companies all around the globe are also finding Spain a great platform to manage their business with Latin America. Spain has deep historical, cultural and linguistic ties with the region, and also strong economic and business relations. Spain is the second largest investor in Latin America and Spanish companies have a strong presence in strategic sectors such as retail banking, telecommunications, energy and transportation infrastructure. Spain has also become the European headquarters for Latin American multinational companies.
For geographical proximity and economic ties Spain is also a suitable platform for doing business with North-African, Mediterranean, and Middle East countries. Spain is a major trading partner for countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, whereas the economic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also very dynamic.
Spain provides an excellent and modern infrastructure transport network (air, road and railway), and has a very competitive position on logistics and communications: Spain is a major connecting hub for airlines traveling between America, Europe and the Middle East.
A high quality education system is critical and Spain excels in this regard. Not only does the country enjoy a tertiary education rate higher than the average for the European Union, but it is also home to a number of prestigious Business Schools and Engineering Universities.
The average programmer salary in Spain (40,000 euros per year) is considerably lower than in France, UK, Ireland, or the three main hubs worldwide: London, NYC, and San Francisco. Despite that, Spain is third “tech talent” destination in Europe and fifth worldwide.
d.The role of the public sector has been critical by encouraging entrepreneurs and the development of the ecosystem and also by facilitating access to finance. It has certainly catalyzed a significant improvement in the array of funding sources available to firms, including alternative finance put in place through public-private partnership. In Spain you can find support for an entrepreneurial project at national and regional levels.
e.Quality of life
Spain is the second country in the world in terms of tourism revenues and number of visitors. More than 300 days of sunshine a year and more than 2,600 km of Green Tracks. World leader in Blue Flags Eco-Label Record with 666 Beaches and Marinas awarded. First class cuisine recognized all around the world. Third country in the world in terms of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (47 sites), and among the world´s top 10 safest countries.
Korean companies have yet to realize the full potential of Spain within the EU market. Even after Brexit, EU market is an economic giant: it is the second largest economy in GDP terms (at market prices) in the world and the second largest import market, excluding EU intratrade.
Q: Please add whatever other details that Your Excellency might consider to be important.
A: First, I want to express our solidarity and support to the Korean authorities and people in this moment where we all try to overcome the coronavirus crisis.
Let me also say that this year we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and Spain, and this will offer an excellent opportunity to increase our contacts and exchanges in all areas. In the economic field, I would mentioned renewable energy, cooperation between our large infrastructure companies in third markets or cooperation in the defense industry, to mention just a few. We also have great opportunities in culture, in tourism and language, fields in which the Korean population is very interested. Just to mention an example last year more than 1% of the Koreans citizens have visited Spain (around 630.000). Another example is the huge number of tests in Spanish language certification (DELE), being one of the countries with more candidates all around the world.
The opportunities are countless and we are working hard to achieve results.
We thank you so much!