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Korea seeks to deepen trade ties as feds appoint panel on Indo-Pacific strategy

Keung Ryong Chang, speaks during a ceremony commemorating the 71st anniversary of the start of the Korean War at National War Memorial in Ottawa, on Sunday, June 20, 2021. The Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Canada, says he hopes Canada's forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy will deepen the two countries’ already strong trade and economic ties.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — Keung Ryong Chang, ambassador of South Korea, says he hopes Canada's coming Indo-Pacific strategy will deepen the two countries’ already strong trade and economic ties.

The ambassador said Thursday that Korea, a leading producer of hybrid and electric cars, is strengthening investment in Canada, including in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.

He also says, with the global popularity of K-pop and Korean films such as “Parasite,” there is room for greater cultural co-operation with Canada, including as a shooting location for pop videos and films.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly appointed a panel of advisers Thursday to help frame the government's Indo-Pacific strategy, which aims to diversify Canada’s trade relationships in the region and reduce its reliance on China.

The panel, co-chaired by political scientist Janice Gross Stein, former Liberal foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew and global advocate for women and girls Farah Mohamed, will focus on issues including trade and increased security in the region. 

The advisory group also includes Rona Ambrose, the former interim leader of the Conservative party, as well as academics and a number of former Canadian ambassadors.

The appointments come days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned as provocative the buzzing by China of a Canadian plane involved in enforcing UN sanctions against North Korea. 

“In the coming decades, developments in the Indo-Pacific region will have profound impacts on the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast," Joly said. "Our intention is clear: Canada is committed to strengthening our presence and deepening our partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific region.”

The minister was tasked, in her mandate letter, with developing and launching a comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy to deepen diplomatic, economic and defence partnerships in the region.

Relations with South Korea will be a key element of the strategy.  

Chang, who is based in Ottawa, said Korea is "hoping to deepen our strong trade and economic ties while closely co-operating on shared priorities such as energy, emerging technologies and climate change."

He added that Canada and Korea have a "strategic partnership" and he expects further co-operation on "promoting peace, security, democracy and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region."

Korea is a leading exporter of electric and hybrid cars, including Hyundai and Kia models. The ambassador said Korean investments in electric-vehicle batteries in Canada would help develop "the Canadian EV ecosytem" and deal with the climate crisis. 

With abundant raw materials and excellent geopolitical location, the Canadian market is valued highly, the ambassador said. "This is why Korea is strengthening investment in Canada with a focus on electric-vehicle battery production."

The Canadian auto industry has warned that federal budget programs for electric vehicles and charging stations are not sufficient to reach the government's ambitious sales targets. 

The targets, published in April in a national emissions reduction plan, included the goal that one in five new cars sold in Canada will generate zero emissions by 2026. The goal is to have 60 per cent by 2030. 

About five per cent of vehicles sold in the first nine months of 2021 were battery-electric or plug-in hybrids, compared with around three per cent in 2020. 

Some consumers are experiencing long waits to buy electric cars whose production has been slowed by global supply-chain issues including the production of components from factories disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The ambassador said Canada is among the countries experiencing the "K-wave" — or Hallyu — and that he hoped to see further cultural ties, including in broadcasting and video production. 

The popularity of Korean culture abroad includes TV dramas, such as Squid Game, and K-pop, notably BTS, a boy band who performed at this year's Grammy Awards. 

The Korean film "Parasite" won best picture and best international feature film at the 2020 Oscars, with director Bong Joon-ho also scooping the award for best director and best original screenplay. 

Several Korean films and videos have been made in Canada including the 2016 drama "Guardian: The Lonely and Great God," filmed in Quebec City.  

The ambassador said the drama did not air in Canada but led to a 60 per cent increase in the number of tourists from Asia visiting Quebec City in 2019. 

Popular K-pop group Twice filmed its music video "Likey" in Vancouver, Chang noted, adding he expects "more filming will happen using the beautiful Canadian scenery for Hallyu content."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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