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On March 15, 2012, the United States and South Korea entered into one of the most significant free trade agreements since NAFTA. By June, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) was already in Korea developing groundbreaking trade partnerships and diplomatic relationships.
The delegation for last month’s trade mission to Korea was comprised of GOED’s International Trade and Diplomacy Office (ITDO) and seven Utah companies in search of new or increased market presence in Korea. The mission utilized the U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Service, as well as Utah’s trade representative in Korea, to arrange and facilitate business-to-business meetings designed to leverage the new opportunities made available by the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).
Business matchmaking costs were funded in part through a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant. STEP grants specifically target new-to-export and new-to-market companies.
Utah companies on the mission, including Varian Medical Systems and The Skin Institute, a St. George-based professional esthetics school, explored growth opportunities by meeting with potential distributors and joint-venture partners. Other companies also explored new opportunities for materials sourcing and student exchange.
Korea’s population of 50 million people, coupled with its rise to wealthy-nation status, provides a compelling market for U.S. goods. In addition to lower duties and tariffs on most products, KORUS also helps Utah companies access Korea’s $580 billion services market.
“The GOED-led mission was a strategic effort by the State to help Utah companies tap the enormous export potential to a vibrant market made more accessible by the free trade agreement,” said Brett Heimburger, ITDO regional director for Asia-Pacific. “Business matchmaking opportunities in Korea are key to finding the right partnerships to be successful in that market and in turn create more jobs in Utah. For most businesses, the overwhelming growth potential lies outside the U.S., and GOED is here to help Utah companies succeed in those markets.”
In addition to matchmaking sessions, delegates met with Bradley Buckwalter, the American Chamber of Commerce representative in Korea, and officials from the Korea Importers Association. GOED also met with officials from Gyeonggi province, Korea’s wealthiest province and the epicenter of Korean industry. Utah has had a sister-state relationship with Gyeonggi province for nearly 32 years.
In addition to business opportunities, the State may expand Utah’s talent pipeline into Korea. With $1 million in funding from the Korean government, the University of Utah is examining the feasibility of opening a branch campus at South Korea’s Songdo Global University near the republic’s capital city.
The mission concluded in Japan where GOED, Goldman Sachs and the Japanese External Trade Organization gathered for a presentation to Japanese investors on the value of doing business in Utah. Flush with cash and bolstered by a strong currency, Japanese companies are aggressively looking for overseas investment opportunities. “Our objective was to educate these firms on the merits of investing in Utah,” said Heimburger, “and to make sure Utah is included in the site selection process.”
GOED works with its partners, including the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, World Trade Center Utah, Small Business Association and others, to help Utah companies reap the benefits of trade missions, trade shows and educational events. Utah’s global exports increased 180 percent from 2006 to 2011 to $18.9 billion.