The New Zealand Embassy kicked off a monthlong festival in October to celebrate growing commercial and cultural links with Korea, expected to expand further after the free trade agreement likely comes into force this year.
The bilateral agreement was signed in March during the visit of New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, Trade Minister Tim Groser and delegation of 35 business representatives to Korea. New Zealand’s parliament has completed its ratification, while Korea’s National Assembly is currently reviewing it.
The FTA covers trade of goods and services as well as investment, encompassing agriculture, education, science and technology, pharmaceuticals, forestry and fishery.
As a “high-quality” deal, it also includes banking, finance and consulting, as well as creative industries of art, film, television and gaming, which will all be subject to domestic regulations.
(From left) New Zealand Ambassador Clare Fearnley (second from right) and New Zealand Cultural Ambassador and Korean actress Ha Ji-won (center) pose with members of Maori kappa haka group at an event at Grand Hyatt Seoul on Oct. 4 that featured traditional “hangi” feast. Joel Lee/The Korea Herald
“The agreement is part of a network of multiple FTAs both our countries have with other economies,” New Zealand Ambassador Clare Fearnley told The Korea Herald in an interview. “We both believe that our future is commonly tied to a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Asia-Pacific region.”
Under the agreement, tariffs will be eliminated across vital sectors of interest, with New Zealand phasing out duties on 98 percent of items, and Korea knocking out tariffs except for a few “sensitive” agricultural items, such as apples, pears, persimmons and honey.
Fearnley, who assumed office in January, said she saw high potentials for cooperation in the IT, film, design, biologics, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals sectors.
Bilateral trade reached $2.6 billion last year, evenly split between exports and imports. Korea mainly imports from New Zealand metals, organic chemicals, plastics, minerals, forestry products, fisheries, dairies, beef and lamb and kiwis; New Zealand imports Korean cars, electronics, machinery and refined oil.
Through the deal, Koreans will gain better access to safe and healthy food, and farm producers on both sides will benefit from year-round growing cycles. The ambassador cited an agricultural partnership between New Zealand kiwi producer Zespri and 150 farms on Jejudo Island, which has successfully produced and sold in the world market.
A 12-person Maori kappa haka group from Christchurch ― “Nga Manu a Tane” ― performs traditional songs and dance at a reception at Conrad Hotel in Seoul on Thursday. Joel Lee / The Korea Herald
In light of New Zealand’s success in the global film industry, such as blockbuster hits “Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” “Avatar” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” that were shot across the country’s spectacular, rugged landscapes, the two countries recently expanded the Film Coproduction Agreement to an Audio-Visual Coproduction Agreement to support animation and broadcasting projects.
On the political side, Fearnley stressed that Wellington and Seoul maintained robust diplomatic and security alliances dating back to the Korean War (1950-53). New Zealand dispatched 6,000 troops to the war as part of the United Nations Forces, during which 45 lost their lives. The country’s defense force personnel are currently serving in Korea’s demilitarized zone as part of the United Nations Command.
Following Seoul’s membership in the U.N. Security Council that ended last year, Wellington began its two-year stint this year in close collaboration with Seoul, she added.
Fearnley said that President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Key during the March summit discussed ways to improve working together in the regional architecture ― APEC, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
“We have very similar visions of the region as an economically integrated Asia Pacific, where large and small countries prosper together in a rule-based system,” she underscored. “As New Zealand is part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, both countries will also work together if Korea decides to join the TPP.”
Seoul this week expressed its aspiration to join the world’s largest trading bloc ― comprised of the U.S., Japan and 10 Pacific Rim countries ― to be created following a landmark agreement in Atlanta on Aug. 5.
New Zealand B-Boy couple TheBreaksNZ and Korean counterpart Extreme Crew battle out a competition at the New Zealand Festival reception at Conrad Hotel in Seoul on Thursday. Joel Lee / The Korea Herald.
The ambassador also touched on the growing people-to-people links, buoyed by tourism and working holiday schemes, noting that some 40,000 ethnic Koreans live in New Zealand with a Kiwi passport and about 4,000 New Zealanders reside in Korea.
The number of Korean tourists has increased by 15 percent last year from the year before, and many are opting for customized itineraries and traveling in small groups.
“Korean tourists are mixing New Zealand’s urban and natural experiences,” the envoy highlighted. “New Zealand offers everything from fjords, high alps and farmlands to white sand beaches, wild sea and rainforests.”
At the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Sunday, a reception featured the “hangi” feast, a traditional Maori cuisine that cooks meat and vegetables in an underground fire pit oven using heated rocks.
A 12-person Maori kappa haka group from Christchurch ― “Nga Manu a Tane” ― performed traditional songs and dance, joined by Korean actress Ha Ji-won, who is a New Zealand cultural ambassador.
“New Zealand feels like a close friend to me,” Ha told the guests. “My family loves New Zealand so much that we bought a house there to visit during our holidays.”
When asked to comment on hangi, which she sampled with Fearnley, Ha said it was “very delicious” with a “deep taste of natural ingredients.”
The embassy will organize over 20 events this month as part of the festival, including a seafood and wine-tasting event, education seminar, tourism reception, gala dinner, music concert, alumni networking night, Kiwi Chamber breakfast and investment seminar.
By Joel Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Traditional Maori cuisine "hangi" at Grand Hyatt Seoul on Oct. 4 Joel Lee / The Korea Herald.