We are happy to welcome our newest member, Seung Kwon Han, who arrived with his family in Brussels as General Manager of KITA Brussels Center, the Korean International Trade Association on Avenue Louise.
When you were assigned to arrive in Brussels in February 2020 from Seoul - just weeks before lock-down - how did you react to this new adventure?
I welcomed the idea of being in Brussels, the administrative capital of Europe, as it is a city with much networking potential. When I previously worked in government for two years - in the Korean Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (MOCIE) - I travelled frequently to Geneva to attend World Trade Organization meetings. Now, I have the opportunity to integrate KITA Global Trade initiatives more securely in Europe – which is more important now than ever, in this current COVID-era.
My wife, Soon Ho, was a trade reporter when we first met. She is pleased that our two boys, aged 12 and 8, will be multi-lingual – they are happily settled in the International School of Brussels, where playing soccer during break-time is a favorite pastime!
You received your MBA from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. You remember fondly the nightly display of fireflies, providing a light show in your garden. Ann Arbor seemed like paradise then - is that how you still remember it?
Yes, I had left behind the fast-paced, competitive, densely populated, highly efficient capital city of Seoul with its 10 million inhabitants - to experience the friendly college-town atmosphere of Ann Arbor, the many gardens and walking trails. It certainly seemed like paradise, with squirrels playing in my back yard. Part of my mind and heart remained in Ann Arbor for the next few years, after my return to Seoul.
You had previously explored the EU continent during your time in Milan as an exchange student?
Yes, our student dormitory at Milan’s Bocconi University had a big communal kitchen. I became known as a “Master Chef” there, introducing dried seaweed, miso soup and kimchi to my colleagues. Friends opened their homes to me, as we then travelled throughout Europe. The experience greatly broadened my cultural understanding.
Getting serious now, as part of President Biden’s infrastructure-building, South Korean companies have committed to investing nearly $40 billion in innovative technologies in the U.S. – semiconductors, Artificial Intelligence, electric-vehicle batteries, 5G and 6G – that are considered vital for building U.S. infrastructure. Is KITA playing a role in this?
Our KITA offices in Washington DC and New York are available to facilitate connections. According to the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association, 70% of the world’s semiconductor wafer factory capacity is now located in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. The U.S. currently has 12% - down from 37% in 1990. President Biden is highlighting the need to ramp up chip manufacturing in the U.S.
This month, July, is the ten-year anniversary of the EU-Republic of Korea Trade Agreement – the first trade agreement of its kind. What is there to celebrate?
Both sides are celebrating that bilateral trade has doubled during these past 10 years - and that there are labour conventions in place which set standards to protect workers’ rights and – with trade growth - generate new employment opportunities for workers.
What are three things that you like about Brussels?
- The beautiful Bois de la Cambre – we enjoy it as a family.
- The Korean Church of Brussels – members provide us with invaluable integration assistance.
- Playing golf – it is very affordable, accessible, and welcoming here in Brussels.
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Photo: The Han family joining the ACB Walking Tour of Brussels on June 26