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Italian envoy, an old hat with new vision

Mercuri seeks to give a more rounded view of Italy to Korea


The relationship between Korea and Italy is excellent, but more can be done under new pacts such as the free trade and framework agreements.

Italian Ambassador Sergio Mercuri is no stranger to Korea. In the late 1980s, Mercuri was stationed in Seoul as first secretary and deputy head of mission.

More than two decades later, Mercuri is back, heading the Italian mission and promising to strengthen an already strong relationship but this time focusing on areas that are not as well known in Korea.

When it comes to Italy, everyone knows about its food, clothing lines, tourist destinations and cultural treasures but there are many other areas that are just as important.

More than money

“Economic and scientific, on both sides we need to make further efforts to promote our relationship,” he told The Korea Herald.

Mercuri plans on taking full advantage of the new Korea-European Union free trade agreement with a trade mission from Nov. 21-26 which will team up businesses, entrepreneurs and government figures from both countries.

At the ministerial level, meetings will be arranged with the Italian Film Commission, the Italian Banking Federation and the Italian Confederation of Industries which represents 146,000 firms and more than 5.5 million employees.

“Their aim should be to find new ways of collaboration in advancing sectors such as green technologies, energy, ICT, photovoltaics, robotics, fuel cells and also traditional ones like consumer goods, foods and machinery, which remains the bulk of our presence in Korea,” he said.

Expanding globally

While the perception of Italy is quite limited to food and fashion, Mercuri believes that the country’s knowhow should be shared in order to create common businesses in the new technology fields.

“Maybe even by looking at business opportunities in third markets in Asia, which is something that Korean companies are eager to do and we can do together with Italian companies,” he said.

With the Korea-EU FTA thoroughly entrenched into the psyche of businesses in Italy and Korea, Mercuri already knows that consumer goods will naturally increase but what looks promising for the future is the synergies in the banking sectors of both countries ― an area that will be looked at during the November meeting.
Italian Ambassador Sergio Mercuri (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Italian Ambassador Sergio Mercuri (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

Culturally speaking

One of the best known treasures of Italy are its cultural gems that are often enjoyed in Korea through art exhibitions, opera and film festivals.

But even the well-known cultural displays and performances are turning a new leaf due to the embassy’s focus of expanding into the unknown with new Italian cultural resources.

“It’s not just a question of promoting the Italian cultural image in this country,” he said. “The new challenge is to integrate as much as possible, Korean cultural elements in our society and visa versa.”

A perfect example came earlier this summer when the Italian Embassy organized an exhibition of Italian artists operating in Korea.

“This is maybe a new form of cooperation. We are not just proposing renaissance works or opera,” said Mercuri.

North Korea

Ambassador Mercuri is also Italy’s representative to North Korea as well as the South.

Recently, Mercuri visited Pyongyang to celebrate Italy’s national day and the 150th year of national unity.

While Italy is not in a position to provide examples of unification, the message was clear.

“We want to create a climate which could be conducive to a better inter-Korean dialogue,” he said.

For the time being, Italy is moving in two directions.

On the northern part of the peninsula, Italy is providing humanitarian assistance. On this side, when the conditions are right, Italy will provide assistance in the field of bilateral dialogue, such was the case when both Koreas met in 2009 in Italy

Aid to North Korea is given in the form of sanitation and health services such as medical equipment.

“We help the North Korean authorities structure their health system in (North Korea’s) Gangwon Province,” Mercuri said. “We help by providing some finance to international organizations that cooperate in the area such as the (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the (World Health Organization).”

Mercuri explained that the national celebration in North Korea was not a lavish event. It was attended by the North Korean foreign minister and two other ministers.

Unification message

In playing its part for Korean unification, the Italian mission in Pyongyang screened the Nanni Moretti film “The Son’s Room (La stanza del figlio),” which depicts the psychological effects on a family and their life after the death of their son.

“This family goes through a tragic ordeal but unifies in the end,” he said. “Even in that case the message is centered on unity.”

Besides the film there was also a classical music concert by Cremona Liuteria which had performed in Seoul several days earlier.

“So through their performance they united both countries,” said Mercuri.

The Italian musical troupe also held music classes and assisted the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance fix their violins.

“In this case we were on a cultural and neutral field,” he said. “The outcome was that a young (North Korean) boy might one day conduct his musical studies abroad.”

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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