The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) led a trade trip to South Korea in May 2016 that offered Wisconsin exporters the opportunity to meet South Korean companies and forge mutually beneficial trade partnerships. Six participating companies traveled to Seoul, Daejeon, and Daegu and met individually with South Korean counterparts. WEDC told Asia Matters for America that it provided an interpreter to each company to facilitate communication with Korean firms and that companies averaged 12 meetings within the week.
The trip was originally designed specifically for exporting companies in Wisconsin geared toward energy and medical technology, industries especially well-developed in Daegu. The trip also focused on research and innovation through its visit to Daejeon, a private and public sector research hub that has received over $30 billion in investments through a major research institute. WEDC told Asia Matters that the opportunity ended up attracting more diverse industries than expected. Participating companies ranged from a family-owned cheese business, Renard’s Cheese, and Wisconsin Jade, a hardwood and medical device company, to electric motor company Velicon and specialty wristband manufacturer Wristband Resources.
WEDC, an agency devoted to creating opportunities for Wisconsin businesses across the globe, tailored the trip's visit locations to Wisconsin’s most promising sectors, notably green energy. In Daegu, WEDC signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of Milwaukee to increase cooperation in the green energy sector, particularly in water technology. It cited the enormous potential for growth in trade between Wisconsin and South Korea as an incentive for companies to participate. Currently, South Korea ranks as the seventh largest American export destination and tenth largest for Wisconsin, which in 2012 still exported less than $500 million worth of goods to South Korea. However, following the implementation of a free-trade agreement between the US and South Korea in 2012, tariffs dropped and new opportunities for trade opened up.
Forging research and industrial partnerships between Wisconsin and South Korea as a result of the trade trip would also complement ties between the two that have developed in other industries. Although South Korea is only Wisconsin’s tenth largest export destination, the Asian nation rises to third when looking at Wisconsin’s export destinations in the agriculture industry, and cheese exports have skyrocketed since the free-trade agreement went into effect.
WEDC’s trip to South Korea in May, however, was but one of four to Asia that it will have led between the start of 2016 and early 2017, with an additional four non-Asian destinations. Two more are planned for North America, one in South America, and a last one to the Middle East. Within Asia, WEDC traveled to Tianjin and Nanjing in January 2016 and will travel to China again in March of 2017. It is also scheduled to travel to India in November 2016. That Asian destinations account for half of all trips taken in this period suggests that the organization is well aware of the market potential the region represents for Wisconsin exporters as they continue to seek out new opportunities abroad.
Andrea Moneton is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.