Korean reunification – Bonanza or Bust? (NZ INC)

Tim McCready

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and also the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division into North and South. Last month the World Journalists Conference was held throughout South Korea under the theme ‘the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea: Thinking about unification on the Korean Peninsula’.

Na Kyung-won, Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee of the National Assembly, posed the question: What is North Korea for South Korea? Her response – “On the one hand, a serious security threat, but on the other hand, a partner with which we have to work together on the way leading to the unification of Korea.” This stance isn’t surprising – the requirement to seek peaceful unification is included in the South Korean Constitution.

South Korea established a Ministry of Reunification in 1998, which works to establish North Korean policy, coordinate inter-Korean dialogue, pursue inter-Korean cooperation, and educate the public on unification. In Korea there is an old saying, ‘ten years can change even the rivers and the mountains.’ However any progress on reunification to date has been largely non-existent.

From 2000 until 2008 liberal governments in South Korea put in place the Sunshine Policy under the leadership of President Kim Dae Jung. The policy resulted in greater political contact between the two countries, two Korean summit meetings in Pyongyang, several business ventures and brief meetings of some Korean families separated by the Korean War.

Kim Dae Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his successful implementation of the Sunshine Policy. However, following nuclear and missile tests and the shooting of a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, the Sunshine Policy was deemed a failure and wound up in 2010. The Sunshine Policy is dead, and so are the key players on both sides.

Sadly there are an estimated 6,700 people from separated families living in South Korea. The tragedy of the division is most prominently seen through those people who have not seen, spoken to, or even sent letters to their family members. Those people with the closest ties to the North are getting very old. Koreans, who are extremely family-centric, are very conscious of the fact that there is not much time left. The older generation passionately long for reunification, and believe it is imminent. Younger Korean’s seem to be agnostic about the prospect and worry about the economic cost.

Aside from reuniting disrupted families, South Korean government officials frequently spoke about ‘hitting the jackpot’, or the ‘bonanza’ that would come with reunification. The Korean Peninsula would be thrust into the role of an Asian hub. China, the world’s second largest economy lies to the West. Japan to the East is the world’s third largest. The virtual island of South Korea that is so evident from nighttime satellite photos would become connected through rail, road, and pipelines through to Eurasia.

South Korea’s population of 50 million combined with 25 million in the North would develop an entirely new market. North Korea has 20% more space geographically than South Korea and an abundance of natural resources including coal, iron ore, gold, rare earths, hydroelectric and seafood. South Korea would suddenly become resource rich, and South Korean companies would gain access to a pool of hardworking, inexpensive North Korean labour.

On the flipside, Andrew Salmon, an author and high-profile journalist based in Seoul had a more pessimistic stance. He noted that if you look at North Korea through only the lens of the leadership, nothing much has changed. His view is that the most exciting and underreported story in Asia is that North Korea is becoming a de facto capitalist state.

During the 1990s North Korea suffered from horrific famine. The State distribution system imploded and North Korea had no choice but to go across the border to China, start trading, and run primitive markets. These markets have not gone away and have instead expanded nationwide to the extent that you can now buy almost anything – food, consumer goods, even electronics. Instead of North Korean currency the traders use international currencies and communicate with each other to set exchange rates. While it may be primitive and unofficial, for the first time in history change is coming from the bottom up.

Salmon believes there are rewards just ahead. Under Kim Jong-un, we have seen incentives and autonomy for factories, agricultural and fishing industries. A real estate market is becoming established in Pyongyang and even a venture capital market is becoming established.

The Kaesong Industrial Zone was established and is run by the South Koreans. While it has been open for ten years, there are only 123 small South Korean companies operating there and is unlikely to get any bigger. The original plan was for this to be the first step for South Korea’s economic recolonisation.

On the flipside, North Korea are establishing additional special economic zones. They are seeking foreign trade and investment, with China moving in very aggressively. The Rason special economic zone is in the far northeast bordering Russia and China and serves as a warm-water port for both countries. Foreign currency is permitted, and there are no poor people there.

Salmon’s view is that there is some hope in the future. But it doesn’t lie in the hands of the generals, the politicians, or the diplomats. It is up to business leaders. The Sunshine Policy wasn’t instigated by a politician, but by Chung Ju-yung – the founder of Hyundai conglomerate. Salmon argued that South Korea needs to get rid of sanctions that prevent any trade or investment in the North outside the artificial Kaesong Industrial Zone and stop the incessant focus on denuclearization – because it won’t happen. He argued that we should instead separate business from politics so that we can all have a stake in the North Korean economy.

As a country that assisted in the Korean War, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on reunification, and share lessons that could be learnt from a New Zealand perspective. With speakers from powerful economies of Russia, China, the UK and South Korea, this was formidable, but the Korean’s were interested in hearing about New Zealand’s much admired strong relationships with nations around the world.

Reflecting on Korean reunification from a New Zealand perspective, our close partnership with Australia in particular offers a number of lessons instructive to prospects for such a future partnership between North and South Korea.

Despite our entwined history and combined military efforts, it would be fair to say that our relationship with Australia has remained strong due to our successful economic and trading partnership. Although the countries have their differences – cultural, political, nuclear, and commercial – they both represent an important trading partner to the other, supported by what is often referred to as “the world’s most comprehensive, effective, and mutually compatible free trade agreement”.

New Zealand’s close relationship has endured with Australia because we are stronger together. If New Zealand can share something with the world, it is that careful navigation of trade issues is something that can strengthen relationships, and over time build trust.

Word from the officials is that unification will be a jackpot not only in Korea, but for the rest of the world. Whether that is right or wrong, a divided Korea is a very sad reality. Progress has been slow, but ultimately the key to resolving conflict and division on the Korean Peninsula will come down to demonstrating that the interest in reunification is mutual and that benefits long term will extend the potential – for both economies.

From Soju to Sauvignon blanc – Korean FTA (NZ INC)

Tim McCready

When the New Zealand – Korea free trade agreement signed in March enters into force, tariffs will be eliminated on 48% of current goods. New Zealand’s exports to Korea current attract $229 million every year in duties.

In the first year alone the free trade agreement will save an estimated $65 million in duties, and within 15 years of establishment the remaining tariffs will be largely eliminated. The industries that will see the most benefit are those exporting dairy, red meat, kiwifruit and wine.

The current tariff on wine exports to Korea is 15%, and this will be wiped immediately as the agreement enters into force. This tariff concession will provide a good boost to exporters, but despite the removal of tariffs, exporting wine to Korea remains a challenge for New Zealand.

This is largely due to the tax and distribution system. When wine arrives in Korea, a liquor tax of 30% is applied, along with an education tax of 10%. This is even before it hits the distribution networks, a value-added tax of 10%, and retailer markups.

Korea produces and consumes a large amount of liquor locally. Beer and Soju make up 86% of locally produced alcohol. Wine makes up approximately 20% of imported alcohol. Wine is considered to be a luxury product and is consumed by only a small fraction of the population. Red wine is dominating wine imports at 71%, but white wine is beginning to gain more traction.

With the removal of tariffs, New Zealand wine producers will now be placed on an equal playing field with major international competitors in the market including the US, EU, Chile and Australia. However, the rest of the taxes that make up the total cost of wine are payable whether a free trade agreement is in place or not.

The combination of taxes, high distribution costs and mark-ups can make New Zealand wine significantly more expensive in Korea than in many other countries. And because New Zealand wine is typically sold as a premium product, and tax is applied as a percentage of price rather than a cost per unit, this can increase the markup on a bottle of New Zealand wine significantly when compared to budget brands of wine. This differs to Japan where tax is applied per bottle, and education tax doesn’t exist.

In the year ending June 2014, South Korea accounted for just $2 million of New Zealand’s $1.3 billion wine export business globally. That said, New Zealand wine is increasingly becoming of more interest to South Korea. Until 2001, only one New Zealand winery had a presence in the Korean market. The number grew to 38 in just six years. Demand for New Zealand wine is growing as consumers become more aware and curious to try white wine.

But we still have a way to go.

I visited three cities during my visit to Korea, and one thing that surprised me is that I was frequently asked if New Zealand produced any alcohol. High-end restaurants had New Zealand wine on their wine list, but my experience demonstrated that the average consumer was largely unaware of our ranking in the wine world.

The free trade agreement will undoubtedly be great for New Zealand’s dairy, meat and horticultural industries. But the wine industry will be one to watch. Chile had a noticeable boost in wine exports after their free trade agreement was signed with Korea, and it is likely that New Zealand will see a similar lift.

But it could be that the free trade agreement gives New Zealand the impetus it needs to boost the recognition and acceptance of our wine brands in Korea. And if that occurs, the benefit of the free trade agreement would vastly exceed any reduction in tariffs.

APEC 2012 CEO Summit – Vladivostok, Russia

In 2012 I was asked to represent New Zealand at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Vladivostok, Russia.

The summit is the Asia Pacific’s premier business event, with the Asia-Pacific’s political leaders and the regions leading CEOs in attendance. The theme this year was “addressing challenges, expanding possibilities”, and with it being held in the Russian Far East, delegates were shown an impressive country with bold ambitions – many embedded in the Asia-Pacific, that dispelled myths and stereotypes.

Video 1: APEC 2012 Overview

Video 2: Behind the scenes in Vladivostok

Political Leaders
One of the biggest highlights of attending APEC was the opportunity to attend the plenary addresses from global leaders, as they outlined their visions, experiences and perspectives on issues of discussion. Leaders included:

  • His Excellency Mr. Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China, who spoke about the challenges and opportunities China has in their relations with Russia. He also outlined the measures and leadership China is aspiring to take on intellectual property, and inward and outward foreign direct investment throughout the APEC economies.
  • The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States of America, addressed the importance APEC plays with members accounting for 54% of world GDP. She spoke about the potential of the platform for economic growth, and the responsibility we have in areas such as security, and assistance for women and minorities in small business in developing countries, so they can also reap these benefits.
  • His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, spoke of opportunities in Russia and outlined measures being taken to ease logistics through upgrades to the Trans-Siberian railway. He fielded questions into Chinese investment in Russia and the on-going negotiations into a New Zealand – Russia/Belarus/Kazakhstan Free Trade Agreement. President Putin acknowledged that developing regions will continue to grow far more quickly than traditional markets, and that the former Soviet-era port of Vladivostok is poised to become a gateway for Russian trade and investment with Asia. Russia has finally joined the World Trade Organisation after an 18 year wait, and having Vladivostok chosen as the APEC venue marked an exciting time as Russia becomes more integrated into the global economy.

I formed part of the Small and Medium Enterprises working group at APEC, and was elected by my working group to present the declaration back to the wider APEC community – which included Russian media and APEC officials.


Meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key

The New Zealand Voices of the Future delegates were fortunate to have twenty minutes with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Meeting their leader wasn’t possible for every Voices of the Future delegate, and spoke volumes to the accessibility and transparency of the New Zealand government. The meeting offered a great opportunity to hear more personally about New Zealand’s priorities at the APEC Summit, and openly discuss topics ranging from:

  • New Zealand’s place at the APEC table and what is being done to ensure the voices of smaller developing nations are being heard at forums like APEC and at trade agreement negotiations such as the TPP
  • recent calls for the strengthening of the Waitangi Tribunal, and where the government thinks the Treaty of Waitangi stands in New Zealand’s future.
  • how to best harness business opportunities in Russia, given New Zealand’s limited capacity of SMEs and the current focus on opportunities in China, India and other parts of Asia
  • the Prime Ministers upcoming meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, and the status of the New Zealand – Russia free trade agreement.

Tim_McCready_John_KeyNew Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Tim McCready

Business Leaders
As well as leaders from the APEC economies, the Summit had addresses and panel discussions into many critical areas of focus for the Asia-Pacific from prominent CEOs and business leaders throughout the region. These sessions included:

  • Food: Feeding seven billion people. Speakers including Sergey Polyakov (General Director of United Grain company) and Samuel Allen (Chairman, John Deere & Co), who discussed the challenges we have with a growing global population and depleting resources.
  • Health is wealth. Panelists included the CFO of Johnson & Johnson, the Chief Research and Strategy Officer of Microsoft, as well as New Zealander Ian McCrae (CEO, Orion Health). The changing landscape of healthcare was discussed, and it was noted that we have reached a time where medical knowledge has surpassed what healthcare practitioners can know, which creates a discontinuity in how medicine is practised around the world. One of the most inspiring moments was when the panel discussed how investment in health can provide a significant social and economic return to economies. The panel agreed that people should be thought of as an investment, not as a cost – because without people, you won’t have a company.


Concluding thoughts
The theme of APEC this year was “addressing challenges, expanding possibilities”, and the summit did a great job of covering these topics. On a more personal level, having the opportunity to attend APEC as a Voices of the Future delegate has encouraged me to reflect on my own challenges and possibilities within the Asia-Pacific region. I have previously done business with major Asian markets, but my eyes have truly been opened to the opportunities within emerging APEC economies. Business and political leaders from those regions are excited about their potential – and they have good reason to be. That excitement has been infectious, and the experience and insights I have left Russia with will stay with me always.



Overcoming barriers to a trade deal with Japan (University of Auckland)

The recent visit to Japan by a group of young New Zealand farmers is exactly the sort of initiative needed to lay the groundwork for a trade deal between the two countries, says the director of the New Zealand Asia Institute, Professor Hugh Whittaker.

The trip, organised by the Japan East Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS), followed bilateral talks between the New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, and his counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone, and included official briefings and visits to dairy factories and livestock centres.

Among the 50-strong group was University of Auckland alumnus Tim McCready, a business development consultant at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

“Japan will always play an important role in the global economy. The things I have learned about the country and culture will change the way I think about, and conduct business with Japan forever,” McCready says.

It is the third such visit aimed at introducing a new generation of New Zealanders to the Japanese way of doing business and along with meetings in 2008 and 2009 of the Japan New Zealand Business Partnership Forum is evidence of a reawakening interest in Japan, which in recent years has been overshadowed by the spectacular economic rise of China. Professor Whittaker says the visits are also an effective way of overcoming obstacles to a bilateral trade deal with our third-largest trading partner.

“New Zealand’s position on the proposed free trade deal with Japan is that we are complementary not competitors, and that we are too small to upset things in Japan. If you want to try out the process for FTAs with developed countries and de-bug it, you are best to do that with a country the size of New Zealand. Japan sees it somewhat differently. If it gives ground to New Zealand, there will be pressure to do the same to bigger countries,” Whittaker says.

Nevertheless, with China and South Korea aggressively signing FTAs, pressure is growing for Japan to do the same to avoid becoming more isolated.

“That would necessitate a willingness within Japan to start implementing measures in the agricultural sector which would introduce market forces,” Whittaker says.

“The issue is not merely opening Japan to foreign agricultural goods, but increasing the marketisation of agricultural activity in the country.”

That process has been slowed by the strong presence of agricultural cooperatives, which are useful in upgrading agriculture and redistributing wealth, but which have become less innovative.

Distribution of wealth is a key issue, says Whittaker.

“Electoral boundaries don’t reflect the country’s urbanisation, so the rural vote is overweighted. The political structures have served to redistribute the results of urban activity to rural areas. Japanese politics is often portrayed as ‘immobilist’, and there is structural misallocation of funds, but there is also a legitimate debate about what is a just society and how much (urban-rural) inequality should be tolerated or encouraged through increased marketisation.”

Actually, Japan’s agricultural sector has great potential for reinvigoration without destroying the fabric of rural society, says Whittaker.

“As a ‘grassroots’ exchange, New Zealand’s agricultural mission is an astute move. If we can demonstrate through these visits that the two countries can complement each other rather than being caught up in a zero-sum game, then it can produce a groundswell for change.”