New Leadership Spurs Hopes of Better Korea-Japan Trade Ties

      March 22, 2022 13:36

      The election of Yoon Suk-yeol as president and a renewed interest in Korean culture in Japan are raising hopes of improvement in chilly trade ties between the fractious neighbors.

      In addition to Korean food and cosmetics companies, which are already doing good business there, other manufacturers are now poised to jump into the Japanese market. And the Federation of Korean Industries plans its first meeting with Japanese businesspeople in three years in July.

      Hyundai is returning to the Japanese market 13 years after it threw up its hands and fled because it could shift no cars there. The Ionic 5 electric car and hydrogen-fueled Nexo will go on sale there first, with online orders starting in May.

      Hyundai may have lost out to its Japanese rivals in combustion-engine cars but believes it has a competitive edge when it comes to EVs. It has rallied auto magazines and car bloggers in Japan to publicize its cars.

      For Korean companies that are already doing business in Japan, demand is soaring. The head of one company that has been selling cosmetics and food products in Japan for more than 20 years said, "Japanese buyers contact us about products reviewed by Korean YouTubers, and even showed a lot of interest in ultra-spicy products like 'The Devil of Fire' instant noodle after it went viral."

      A staffer at Taenam Shop, an online retailer of shampoo and body wash, said, "We used to take it as gospel that there was no demand for cheap bath and shower products in Japan, but now even those are selling. We started selling them in February and sales already reached W100 million, and we're targeting W1 billion this year" (US$1=W1,215).

      According to data from the Korea International Trade Association on Monday, Korea's exports to Japan fell from US$30.5 billion in 2018 to $25.1 billion in 2020 but rose to $30.1 billion last year.

      Korea's imports from Japan recovered to 2018 levels in 2021.

      Change or imminent change of leadership in both countries is stoking hopes of improved relations. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office last year, while Yoon will be inaugurated in May.

      There are high hopes that the bilateral business meeting in Seoul in four months will set the ball in motion for a full-fledged recovery in bilateral ties. The annual meeting between the FKI and its Japanese counterpart Keidanren, has not taken place since November 2019 as relations chilled over Japanese export retaliation for historical grievances. 

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