When I first came to Canada in 1997, seeing a Korean-made product on the street was a rarity. When we did see one, it became the topic of the moment amongst fellow Korean witnesses. I remember once seeing a Pony – a Hyundai-made car that was exported to Canada during the 1980s to early 1990s (see photo) – and how excited and proud we were. I also remember going to Future Shop (an electronic retail store) and trying to find made-in-Korea products, only to discover them in the clearance section or hidden behind Sonys.
For those who don’t remember those days, it is hard to imagine, given the fact that so much of our lives now depend on Korean products. Samsung has become the number one seller of smartphones, de-crowning once undefeatable Apple and RIM; LG has had the largest market share in front-load washing machines in Canada for 2 consecutive years; and in the first half of 2012, Hyundai was the fourth largest seller of cars in volume in Canada.
The rate of expansion of Korean products in Canada has been truly astonishing. I have seen first-hand Korean products go from an obscure existence in niche markets to being market leaders. Statistically speaking, imports from Korea more than doubled from $2.84 billion in 1997 to $6.62 billion in 2011. During the same period, imports from all other countries increased only by approximately 63%, indicating growing shares of Korean imports out of total imports in Canada (Industry Canada, Trade Data Online).
Although the relationship between Korea and Canada dates back to the late 19th century, the economic relationship did not begin until much later. According to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) document on Korea-Canada relations, the two countries “shared almost negligible amounts of commercial interaction in the 1970s.”
During the 1980s, Korea and Canada drew closer: “Canada’s interest in the economic dynamism of the Asia Pacific Region grew due to new shifts in immigration and trade trends”, while Korea was seeking to diversify its international relations (MOFAT document). As a result, total volume of trade between Korea and Canada grew seven-fold as compared to the 1970s.
Formalization of and substantial partnership in bilateral trade intensified during the 1990s.
In my next blog, I will discuss the further deepening of Korea-Canada bilateral trade relations. In particular, I will discuss the creation of institutional forums, such as OECD, APEC and WTO, along with the Korea-Canada Special Partnership Working Group, and how they accelerated Korea-Canada relations.