South Korea is becoming an increasingly important partner for Italy. Relations between Italy and the Asian country have always been good, characterized by a strong economic and commercial bond, but have further strengthened in recent years, especially after the signing of a strategic partnership during the official visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Rome in 2018.
The strengthening of the bilateral relationship is due to the increase in commercial exchanges recorded in recent years, but also to a growing convergence in terms of geopolitical interests. Both Italy and South Korea, as middle powers, want to preserve multilateralism, something that has become increasingly difficult over the past years, amid gradual American disengagement from global affairs and rising tensions between the US and China. In other words, the conditions are there for Italy and South Korea to build a more structured dialogue on issues of common interest.
In fact, it is no coincidence that on 28 September the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted the first session of the Strategic Meetings on Industry, Energy and Trade with South Korea. This bilateral dialogue forum was launched in 2018 during President Moon’s visit. The meeting was co-chaired, on the Italian side, by Deputy Foreign Minister Manlio Di Stefano and, on the Korean side, by Deputy Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy, Park Jin-Kyu.
The meeting, as explained in press release, took stock of existing bilateral cooperation and the crucial prospects for industrial collaboration in advanced technologies and robotics, health, biotechnology and textiles, as well as in the field of natural gas, hydrogen and renewables, and trade and investment facilitation.
“Italy and South Korea are economies united by transformative capacity and entrepreneurial inventiveness” said Deputy Minister Di Stefano. “Korea is the country that imports more Italian products per capita in East Asia and represents a reference market for our companies in the region. Moreover, Korea is one of the countries in the world that invests the most in research and development. For this reason, we see significant prospects for scientific and technological cooperation in the coming years.”
In terms of trade, Italy is one of South Korea’s main partners. Italian exports to South Korea reached a total value of $6 billion in 2020. Direct investments, on the other hand, are somewhat less developed. However, some sectors present significant growth opportunities.
Among these is the defence sector, especially now that a cooperation agreement signed in 2018 has entered into force. As Italian Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini explained to online newspaper Formiche, the cooperation agreement “lays the necessary premises to fully develop bilateral cooperation in the defence sector, coherently with the progressive consolidation of our relations in many other areas, such as trade”.
Another area of potential cooperation between Italy and South Korea is the energy sector. South Korea, in fact, has adopted ambitious environmental goals and aims at becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The country’s green strategy is mainly based on green hydrogen, a source of clean energy Italy is also strongly investing in. During the meeting between Mr. Di Stefano and Mr. Park Jin-Kyu, particular emphasis was laid on the issue of decarbonisation and renewable energy.
“With the Korean Green New Deal, Seoul will also invest heavily in renewable energy. With its companies and cutting-edge technologies, Italy is ready to support this fundamental transformation of the Korean economic system towards less impactful models” Mr. Di Stefano concluded.