President Park Geun-hye plans to use the upcoming state visits to India and Switzerland to open the world's second-most populous nation wider to Korean businesses, learn the Swiss know-how in fostering skilled labor and appeal to global CEOs about investing in Korea, officials said Monday.
The weeklong trip starting Jan. 15 to the Indian capital of New Delhi and the Swiss capital of Bern, as well as the resort town of Davos, is Park's first overseas trip in her second calender year in office. It comes weeks after Park pledged in her New Year's news conference to significantly boost the economy in the coming years.
Officials said the trip is part of Park's "sales diplomacy" drive aimed at using diplomatic trips and meetings to increase South Korea's economic and business interests. It is also aimed at increasing cooperation with the two countries in seeking to realize her "creative economy" vision, officials said.
"Creative economy" refers to the overarching economic growth strategy of the Park administration. It calls for the blending of information and communications technology with culture and other realms to create novel industries and more jobs.
The trip to India is set to focus on increasing Korean business access to the massive market of 1.2 billion people. Despite the comprehensive economic partnership agreement, or CEPA, between the two countries, the level of bilateral free trade is not that high, officials said.
"There will be a lot of discussion on how to upgrade this," Cho Won-dong, senior presidential economic secretary, told reporters, adding that a series of agreements, such as a double taxation prevention accord, are also under discussion to make India a better place to do business for Korean firms.
India also has a lot of demand for infrastructure construction, such as power plants, and laying the groundwork for Korean firms' participation in such projects is a key purpose of Park's state visit to the country, Cho said.
After arriving in New Delhi on Wednesday, Park plans to hold a meeting with Korean residents there. A summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set for Thursday, where the two leaders are expected to discuss ways to strengthen economic, diplomatic and defense cooperation.
On Friday, Park plans to attend a series of economic cooperation meetings.
"India is a country that has global competitive edges in information technology, aerospace and other high-tech industries," said senior presidential foreign affairs secretary Ju Chul-ki, adding that a series of memorandums of understanding will be signed to increase economic cooperation.
The trip to Switzerland will make Park the first South Korean president to make a state visit to the European country since the two sides opened diplomatic relations in 1963. Officials said Switzerland invites only one foreign leader for a state visit a year and that this year's invitation to Park shows that the country hopes for greater cooperation with South Korea.
Park is scheduled to hold a summit with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter next Monday to talk about ways to expand trade and investment, strengthening cooperation in vocational education, science and technology, and global issues, officials said.
Switzerland is known for its highly skilled labor force, and a key point of Park's trip to the country is to learn the Swiss know-how on raising human talent. She is scheduled to pay a visit to a vocational school there during the trip, officials said.
From Bern, Park will move to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for this year's meeting of the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting of global business leaders and politicians, also known as "Davos Forum." She will be the second South Korean president ever to attend the forum since her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.
Park plans to deliver a keynote speech at the forum to champion her "creative economy" vision, officials said. She also plans to hold a series of one-on-one meetings with global business leaders to call for their investment in Korea while outlining South Korea's efforts to make the country a better place to do business.
"The trip to Davos is for a national IR (investor relations)," Cho said. (Yonhap News)