Belarus,Korea See Practical Relations

By Yoon Won-sup

Staff Reporter

When Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko appointed Aleksandr Guryanov as ambassador to South Korea, he gave the new ambassador a special mission: make every effort to develop ``practical'' relations with Korea.

With this mission in mind, Guryanov presented his credentials to President Roh Moo-hyun last March, and was surprised to hear Roh's view on the bilateral relations.

Roh said that South Korea and Belarus don't have political problems, so the two countries should concentrate on practical issues such as developing cooperation in the economic, scientific and cultural fields.

``The interesting thing is that while meeting President Roh to present credentials, he said exactly the same thing that I was told by my president,'' Guryanov said in an interview with The Korea Times. ``I think the vision of both presidents at this moment is practically the same and that means that we have a good base to boost our bilateral cooperation.''

So the 34-year-old ambassador has focused on the practical issues, particularly the economic, scientific and technological ones, since his arrival in Seoul.

There are several agreements which have recently been signed by the National Academy of Science of Belarus and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy of Korea in the field of science and technology.

``On the basis of these agreements, we already have a joint center for developing technology, and a good thing is that Belarus has huge potential in applied science,'' he added.

The ambassador considered science and technology as a symbolic area for the bilateral cooperation, which should expand to other areas like trade and investment.

``I think the trade volume and investment turnover between the two countries are not enough. I mean they are very small when considering the size of the two economies,'' he said.

Belarus and South Korea have very similar trade patterns. Both are export-oriented countries, and their flagship products are the microchip and semiconductor. So to a certain degree they are competing in the world market.

``Belarus is now selling its products to more than 150 countries, and 60 percent of our GDP (gross domestic product) is formed by exports,'' he continued. ``So, of course, in some markets and some products, we (Belarus and Korea) are competitors.''

Guryanov, however, saw the positive side of trade cooperation.

``For example, Korea is No. 1 in producing microchips and semiconductors, and at the same time we also have the same products in Belarus,'' he said. ``And the fact is that Belarus is selling semiconductors and microchips to Korea.''

Asked how it could happen, he said that Belarusian semiconductors and microchips are different from Korean ones, and that they had found a niche market in Korea.

``Korean products are now oriented to more sophisticated microchips, and Korea imports Belarusian semiconductors and microchips for usual things like TV sets,'' he said. ``This is a good example that we have competition in some products, and at the same time we can cooperate.''

Turning to investment issues, the ambassador became active in trying to attract Korean investors, stressing the strategic location of his country, which lies between Europe and the Russian Federation.

``We see Belarus could become a base for Korean investors in the European region because now Belarus is bordering the European Union,'' he said. ``From the other side, we have the Russian Federation, with which we have special conditions for trade.''

One of the conditions is the customs union, which allows Belarus to trade with the Russian Federation without paying tariffs.

The ambassador went on to say that his country has six free economic zones, which he thinks provide special opportunities for foreign investors.

``So we invite Korean companies to come more actively to Belarus to take advantage of business potential,'' he added.

However, the current situation about the Korean investment in Belarus is not so rosy. Annually, about 400 Koreans visit Belarus, according to the embassy, though most of them go there on business. In the case of China and Japan, thousands of people visit the nation per year.

Guryanov attributed the relatively small number of Korean visitors to Belarus to a lack of information here.