Prior to the cancellation of the APEC summit in Chile, South Korean officials kept tabs on the now-delayed encounter between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in hopes the meeting would speed up a trade agreement.
Mexico’s top diplomat in Seoul said earlier this month the Latin American country hopes to promptly conclude negotiations on Korea’s associate membership of the Pacific Alliance.
Seoul kicked off talks to become part of the trading bloc last July, a development which is to have the equivalent effect to that of signing a trade deal with Mexico, Korea’s largest export destination in Latin America.
“Firstly I am sure that this postponed meeting would take place very soon. Because there is very strong interest from both sides to meet together. … Also the trade relations is beneficial for both countries,” Mexican Ambassador Bruno Figueroa said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Nov 1.
Mexican Ambassador to South Korea Bruno Figueroa speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Mexican Embassy in central Seoul on Nov 1. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
“We already trade more than 20 billion dollars per year without any trade agreement. ... We are filling that gap (trade agreement) through the structure in Latin America called the Pacific Alliance. The process has already started and we hope that we can finish it as soon as possible.”
Launched in 2012, the Pacific Alliance is a trade bloc composed of Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia. It has a combined population of 210 million and total gross domestic product of $2 trillion.
Korea has been seeking partnerships with Latin American countries in a bid to diversify its trade partnership and reduce dependence on traditional partners.
The Korea-Central America FTA, for example, took effect last month, making Korea the first Asian country to sign a deal of this kind. Korea is also in talks to reach a deal with Ecuador and the Mercosur countries.
Despite the absence of a trade deal, total trade volume between Korea and Mexico rose 82 percent in 2018 to reach $20.9 billion, up 82 percent from 2009, according to data from Mexico’s Ministry of Economy.
Korea is Mexico’s No. 2 investor among Asian countries and sixth-biggest trading partner worldwide.
“Many South Korean firms have established in Mexico to cater to the Mexican market, and… to attend the North American market. Mexico is a hub for international Korean companies … We’re talking about very strong Korean presence, almost $6 billion of investment in Mexico,” Figueroa said.
The number of companies registered in Mexico by a Korean national is nearly 2,000.
Samsung and LG produce their flat screens in Mexico on top of some half million cars manufactured there by Hyundai and Kia Motors.
Asked about key points to watch in the event the two heads of state meet face to face, Figueroa said he expected greater involvement by Korea in Mexico’s drive to foster development of Central American countries to bring down the influx of migrants in Mexico.
“Bilateral cooperation not only between us, but also two-thirds of the region. Mexico’s priority today is to support Central America’s development. More than ever, Mexico is devising development plans especially for three countries of the north of Central America -- Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras -- in order to tackle the cause of migration,” Figueroa said.
“As President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said many times, people do not migrate by will, they migrate by need. … We have to tackle the causes of migration. Korea is already an important actor in the development scene of Central America we are sure that South Korea and Mexico will work together to support new development projects in Central America.”
Stronger cooperation between the two geographically far away countries would have not come as smoothly as it has without K-pop and the internet.
Super Junior, Monsta X, NCT 127 and Twice are among the K-pop groups that have performed in Mexico so far this year.
“Mexico and Korea is separated by the largest ocean in the world, we are talking about 21,500 kilometers away. But never have Mexico and Korea been so close. … The information we have today about Mexico in Korea and vice versa were nonexistent one-two decade ago,” Figueroa said.
“In the last decade we have witnessed first political contact (between Mexico and Korea) and then economic relationship, which is getting stronger. Today, it is the time of the people -- of Mexicans and Koreans.”
South Korea and Mexico established diplomatic relations in 1962 and a strategic partnership in 2005, Korea’s first such partnership with a country in Latin America.