Taoiseach says trade mission to Korea a ‘big bang’ approach to deepening ties

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivers a speech during the opening of the new Athy Distributor Road in Athy, Co Kildare (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivers a speech during the opening of the new Athy Distributor Road in Athy, Co Kildare (Niall Carson/PA)

The Taoiseach and three ministers are taking part in a trade mission to South Korea that forms part of a “big bang” strategy to improve Irish relations with less-visited countries.

Leo Varadkar said that an annual autumn trade mission would offer a different approach than St Patrick’s Day, when the Taoiseach travels to Washington and other ministers travel to different countries to promote Ireland abroad.

Mr Varadkar’s diplomatic itinerary in Korea begins on Thursday, and includes a meeting with President Yoon Suk Yeol and the heads of Korean companies that have invested in Ireland.

The programme of events for Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris begins on Wednesday.

The itinerary includes a series of meetings on opening new trade and education links between the two nations.

The Irish trade mission ends on Friday.

“For a very long time now, for 20 or 30 years, ministers travel around the world for St Patrick’s Day as a big opportunity to grow to Ireland abroad,” Mr Varadkar said on Tuesday, ahead of the trip.

“We’ve decided that as a new approach, every autumn there’ll be a trade mission led by the Taoiseach with a number of other ministers and we’re going to focus on countries that we would maybe visit less often, particularly countries outside of the European Union, and to bring a number of ministers and all the different agencies and a lot of different private sector partners as well and education institutions, for example.

“I suppose it’s to have a big bang approach, to go to a country that maybe we wouldn’t visit so often say that Ireland wants to upgrade our relations with Korea – or wherever it is next year.

“The reason why we picked Korea is that we’ve now 40 years of diplomatic relations with Korea, and also in addition to that, it’s the 12th biggest economy in the world.

“We think it’ll be in the top 10 in not too long.

“We want to make sure that our presence is felt there and that we can increase contact when it comes to trade, when it comes to political alignments, when it comes to higher education, when it comes to agriculture, access to beef market is a big one of the big priorities, for example.”

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney will also travel to Korea (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Coveney said the week was an opportunity for Irish companies to expand their business and said the possibilities were “endless”.

“The EU-Korea free trade agreement provides Irish companies with access to a market of over 50 million people,” he said.

“A large proportion of our five billion euro per year in two-way trade with Korea is business to business.

“There is huge scope to grow this, building on the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and the imminent accession of Korea to the EU research framework Horizon Europe.

“The possibilities are endless.”

Mr McConalogue said Korean consumers are “sophisticated” and that there is “a demand for the high quality, safe and sustainable agri-goods Irish farmers, fishers and food processors produce”.

“Irish food and drink products ranging from seafood to dairy to whiskey are already on sale in Korea with agri-food exports to Korea valued at 75 million euro in 2022.

“I will be meeting Korean buyers this week to grow this market further,” he said.

Mr Harris is expected to announce a new Ireland-Korea English Language Student Alumni Network and Student Ambassador Scholarship scheme this week.