George Xinaris on how Cyprus’ economy can benefit from closer ties with the Republic of Korea

George Xinaris, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Korea in Cyprus since 2021, explains why relations with the Asian powerhouse could be expanded to the island’s economic and technological benefit.

As the country’s Honorary Consul in Cyprus, could you give us an overview of the Republic of Korea’s position in the global economy?

The Republic of Korea has achieved remarkable success in the last few decades. Korea is one of the few countries that successfully transformed itself from a low-income to a high-income economy by leveraging innovation and technology for its development. Today, the Republic of Korea is a global leader in innovation and technology and has the 12th largest economy in the world. Indicatively, in 2022, the combined research and development (R&D) spending by the Korean government and the private sector exceeded US$84 billion.

According to the World Economic Forum, Korea has one of the most technologically advanced economies in the world, ranked second in the world in technological readiness and innovation. It is a leader in areas like mobile technology, electronics, semiconductors, display panels and Internet connectivity. The European Union and the Republic of Korea are important trading partners. As of last year, Korea is the EU's third-largest importer after China and the United States, while the EU is Korea's third largest export destination.

How do you view bilateral relations between Cyprus and Korea?

Our bilateral relations are constantly growing in all fields, especially in the energy sector, which is of tremendous importance to both countries. In the last decade, bilateral trade volumes have increased significantly and now exceed US$1.8 billion. I should mention that in 2022, Cyprus’ imports from Korea exceeded US$208 million, while Cypriot exports amounted to US$9.3 million. Given the framework of bilateral trade and economic cooperation – i.e. the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Korea – I believe that Korea could emerge as one of Cyprus’ most important economic partners, with obvious benefits for the Cypriot economy and the technological development of the island.

Can these ties be expanded?

Certainly. More can be achieved by expanding our bilateral cooperation in fields such as health and technology, trade, investment, tourism and maritime and through the promotion of academic and people-to-people exchanges. The presence of the Korean company KOGAS in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is further proof of the growing enhancement and deepening of our ties.

Tell us more about KOGAS.

The Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) is a multinational energy company that was established by the Korean government and is the sole provider of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to the country. The company explores and produces natural gas in the Middle East, South East Asia, and Russia. Since its establishment in 1983, KOGAS has grown into the largest LNG-importing company in the world. In 2013, the Italian company Eni and KOGAS signed exploration and production sharing contracts with Cyprus’ Ministry of Energy, Commerce & Industry, covering Blocks 2, 3, and 9 in Cyprus’ EEZ. In 2015, it was officially announced that the Eni-KOGAS consortium had failed to discover any exploitable gas reserves after deep-sea drilling in Block 9.

What can you tell us about the present drilling status in the other two Blocks?

We all agree that Cyprus offshore exploration programme is experiencing very challenging conditions, not only because of Turkey’s aggression and claims in the region but also because of the current unstable situation in the Middle East. I believe that in such negative international conditions we should be very careful and measured in what we reveal about our energy programme. The less we say, the better.

In which other areas do you believe that Cyprus-Korea cooperation should be expanded?

Cooperation must be expanded to cover all the main sectors of modern economic activity, including education. I consider that cooperation between the two countries in education, which plays an important role in the island’s economy, will open up new prospects for the expansion of bilateral relations. Also, cooperation in the very important fields of research and technology, in which the Republic of Korea is among the leading countries worldwide, will be particularly beneficial for Cyprus. It should be noted that, today, the Republic of Korea is one of the most important economic players, not only in the wider region of Asia but worldwide. It is a country with increasing influence in terms of global economic and technological developments. I feel greatly honoured by the decision of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to choose me as the Republic’s Honorary Consul in Cyprus. I would like also to take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Jung Il Lee and his team for the excellent cooperation we have developed with the aim of continuously upgrading Cyprus-Korea relations, not only on a political and economic level but especially on a cultural level as well.

Do you have specific suggestions for the further improvement of relations between Cyprus and Korea?

The easy and speedy issuance of visas to citizens of the Republic of Korea will certainly make a positive contribution to the whole effort. At the same time, I consider it an extremely important goal for the development of economic relations to be accompanied by a corresponding development of cultural relations. I believe that the deepening of cultural relations is the most stable foundation for building and developing mutual understanding and cooperation between peoples.

(Photo of George Xinaris by TASPHO)

This interview first appeared in the May edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.

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