No. 2 trade partner South Korea eager for more Alaska ties


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South Korea’s Ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-Young, right, and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Y. Kim, visit the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, after ringing the opening bell on May 13. Ahn visited Anchorage Aug. 4 to discuss relations with Alaska and the U.S. South Korea surpassed Japan as the No. 2 export destination for Alaska goods in 2013.

Photo/File/AP

The South Korean ambassador to the United States said the bond connecting the countries is strong and Alaska that remains a key trading partner with the East Asian country.

“I can say without any blush on my face that the relationship between Korea and the United States has never been better,” Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young said to Anchorage Chamber of Commerce members Aug. 4.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of formal relations between South Korea and the U.S. following the end of the Korean War, Ahn said.

Hosting the ambassador on a tour of Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich said Alaska’s military installations and personnel are critical for the security of both countries when dealing with North Korea. The Senator added that the ties between Alaska and South Korea go beyond security interests.

“Korea is a vital commercial partner for Alaska,” Begich said.

South Korea was the state’s second-largest international export market last year. The total value of Alaska exports to the country topped $705 million in 2013, up from $477 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

China has been the largest foreign market for Alaska goods since 2011, with more than $1.2 billion worth of commodities sent to the country last year.

Begich remarked to Ahn that energy could be added to the major exports to South Korea of seafood, minerals and forest products in the near future.

“We do want to sell you natural gas; we just need to build a little pipeline, but we’re working on it,” he said to the ambassador.

Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Deputy Commissioner Jon Bittner said the South Korea market provides benefits to Alaska beyond the final export totals. Those benefits are exemplified in seafood, he said, which makes up roughly half of Alaska’s total exports to the country.

Logistical hubs throughout Alaska benefit when seafood is shipped overseas, he said, and the long-term, healthy relationship Alaska businesses have with Korean buyers helps generate further trade activity. He called South Korea the state’s “gateway to Asia.”

“Korea serves as a facilitator for Alaska good going to tertiary markets,” Bittner said.

Using South Korea as a pass-through for Alaska’s raw commodities headed elsewhere allows for value-added processing to be done in the country, he said.

Ambassador Ahn said nationally the U.S. offers the best service industries in the world, something South Koreans take advantage of.

American service exports to South Korea have grown by about 20 percent each of the past two years, he said, and the U.S. enjoyed a $3 billion service trade surplus with the country last year.

For their part, South Korea businesses invested more than $2 billion in the U.S. in 2013, Ahn said, with Samsung expanding in Texas and California and Kia working in Georgia.

The addition of South Korea to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program in 2008 has made it much easier for tourists from the country to get to Alaska, he said.

A South Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement went into effect in early 2012, which will help further business activity between the countries as its benefits are fully realized, Ahn said.

Nearly 95 percent of commodities will be exempt from tariffs by 2017 under the agreement, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

One of those commodities is liquefied natural gas. Free-trade means there is no need to obtain an export license to ship LNG, Ahn said, and his country hopes to start buying shale-sourced LNG in 2017.

The last remaining barrier is a work visa, the ambassador said.

“We need professionals to move around freely between Korea and the U.S.,” he said.

Introduced in the House last year the Partner with Korea Act would eliminate the need for temporary work visas for up to 15,000 South Korean skilled workers each year. Rep. Don Young is one of 103 cosponsors of the bill.

Sens. Begich and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced similar legislation in the Senate July 24.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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