Résumé of the Korea conference
Last week the conference „Geopolitical changes, economic innovation and international relations: Korea and Estonia” took place in Tartu. This was the second time that a conference on Korea, supported by UT School of Economics and Business Administration, the Academy of Korean Studies and Doctoral School in Economics and Innovation, convened in Tartu. The goal of the international conference was to expand Korean and Estonian relationships in the field and create an environment for meaningful discussion.
Thursday, the first day of the conference, was kicked-off with a presentation by Prof. Dr. Urmas Varblane on the similarities and differences between Korea and Estonia. For example, when we are proud of the long history of our alma mater, Korea has an university already founded in 1398! Furthermore, while both countries are very open economies they are also similarly effected by global trends. Unfortunately, both countries stand out as states with the highest gender pay gap. On the backdrop of the broad overview given by Prof. Varblane, the conference started to go in-depth with more specific topics.
First off was Dr. Hansoo Choi from the Korea Institute of Public Finance who’s topic was provocatively titled "Good-bye, the Republic of Samsung.” Dr. Choi spoke of chaebols (literally meaning wealth + clan) - large family controlled business groups that dominate the South Korean economy. Samsung, Hyundai and LG are prime examples of chaebols. Dr. Choi asked weather there is judicial bias towards these firms because they play a systemic role in the Korean economy, i.e. whether they are “Too big to jail?”.
After a short coffee break the conference continued with the introduction to Dr. San Wook Cho’s research project. Dr. Cho, who is from the University of New South Wales, was interested weather free-trade agreements increase the amount of new goods exported. He explored the topic through the cases of Korea, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He found a similar trend in Estonia and Korea. That is, in both cases, the sectors that initially had top traded goods were also the sectors to have the top traded goods that had not been exported before after the free-trade agreement was signed.
UT’s junior research fellow Mathias Juust talked about the results of his MA thesis that focused on the effects of the EU-Korea Freetrade agreement on the automotive industry. He found that the treaty had had positive effects on bilateral trade within the industry and in the short-term it had given bigger gains for European exporters. He however emphasized that it should not be taken as a winner-loser situation, because the agreement is bound to generate beneficial long-term results for both sides. On this positive note, the conference participants headed for lunch.
After lunch, Prof. Dr. Ralph Wrobel from Westsaxon University of Applied Sciences, Germany, gave a speech titled “South Korea: As foreign direct investor and trade partner for ASEAN.” He was most puzzled why South-Korea had become a major trade-partner for and investor in Vietnam. However, his broad conclusion was that currently balancing of economic power in South-East Asia is working quite well and South-Korea plays an important part in it.
Dr. Erkki Karo from Tallinn University of Technology spoke of his research on strategic agility for innovation and development within public sectors, with a special focus on South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. He concluded that in the three cases political discourse had constructed narratives of innovation which had created and opportunity to change old practices, but the jury is still out on the actual implementation of these narratives. The first day was concluded by a discussion on UT’s PhD student You-Jun Shin doctoral thesis, which aims to measure the efficiency of public e-health services in Estonia and Korea.
After a few hours of rest the presenters gathered for dinner and casual networking at the Gunpowder Cellar.
Friday morning started with a discussion on North Korea – how to people live there and what are the economic developments and outlooks of the region? Professor Ari Kokko from Copenhagen Business School shared his experiences visiting North Korea by comparing how it was 15 years ago and how it is now.Dr. Bernhard Seliger from the Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea Office, Seoul, gave an overview of which zones are less strict and more open to development – like the Tumen river along the border, where China and Russia cooperate.
The day continued with more specific economics topics: professor Erik Terkfrom Tallinn University talked about value chains and specialisation patterns. Dr. Kyunghun Kim from Korea Institute of Economic Policies talked about Korea’s long-term interest rates. The conference sessions ended with entrepreneur Aavo Kokk who shared his experiences with Korea – about the market of military products, but also the food, pop-culture, and beauty market. He also said South Koreans deserve a lot of respect due to the speed with which they implement changes in the public sector.
A full discussion followed with all participants on how exactly could the relationship be furthered between Korea and Estonia. Several ideas were shared: for example an embassy in both countries, sharing educational practices (especially with Estonia’s last PISA test in mind) – including student and staff mobility, sharing e-governance practices and more. All participants were hopeful that more similar networking opportunities would arise in the future and that more personal relations would be created – that is after all the basis of all co-operation.
The conference was then concluded. The remaining presenters visited Estonian National Museum and had a joint dinner in the Bad Boys pub.
This event was supported by the Academy of Korean Studies Grant(AKS-2017-C-48).