Alternative Actors in Latam: South Korea

felipe vi-rey-españa-moon

South Korea's Finance Minister announced his country's intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TIPAT or CPTPP). In its renegotiated version following the departure of the US, TIPAT has 11 members, including Mexico, Chile and Peru. The minister also confirmed that the world's 10th largest economy is preparing to resume talks on a Free Trade Agreement with Mexico.

If tensions with Beijing and the securitisation of technological cooperation increase, international relations with China will be exposed to greater risk. This increases the value of high-tech partners such as Korea for Latin America. In view of this - and in the face of Chinese protectionism - Seoul is emerging as a gateway to the Asian market.

REUTERS/LUISA GONZALEZ - Colombian President Iván Duque

In August, President Iván Duque visited South Korea, where he met with his counterpart Moon Jae-in. Priority issues: health and vaccine production, as well as Colombia's economic reactivation. Accompanied by 6 ministers and a dozen businessmen, his agenda included meetings with executives of leading hospitals and presidents of iconic companies such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG.

Their shared history stems from the participation of the nearly 5,000 combatants of the "Colombia Battalion" in the Korean War. At the end of hostilities in 1953, Colombia had 196 dead and missing and more than 400 wounded. A contribution that South Korea is grateful for and remembers. Proof of these ties are the scholarships given to Colombia by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

Another example is visible in culture with the film 'Bogotá'. The filming with well-known actors from both countries, which was postponed due to the pandemic, was completed in September. Set in Colombia in the 1990s, this crime thriller tells the story of a young Korean man who emigrates to the Latin American capital. The planned release is one of the most eagerly awaited.
The FTA is 10 years old and the trip elevated the relationship to a "strategic bilateral partnership" supported by this agreement signed in 2011. Seoul expresses its intention to move closer to the Pacific Alliance.

In Pesquería, a town in the Mexican state of Nuevo León, an industrial boom began in 2014 with the start-up of the automotive company Kia México. Along with it came construction companies and suppliers of inputs and engineering, generating thousands of jobs. So many Koreans arrived that the area began to be called Pescorea. The term also covers the transformation in areas of other municipalities such as Apodaca and San Pedro. The Korean influence - in the Monterrey metropolitan area - is shown by the Spanish/Korean signs in businesses: from hairdressers to supermarkets, restaurants, travel agencies, language and taekwondo academies, cosmetics and K-beauty shops or law firms.

In 2020, Pesqueria had 147,624 inhabitants, a growth of 608% compared to 2010, according to the official portal DataMexico. Between 2018 and 2020, it was the municipality that attracted the most foreign direct investment according to the Federal Government's Ministry of Economy.

REUTERS/DANIEL BECERRIL - Border Customs at the World Trade Bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Last month, Costa Rica's Carlos Alvarado visited South Korea to promote economic recovery. His goal: to position Costa Rica as an investment destination and strengthen the excellent diplomatic relations that will be 60 years old in 2022. A memorandum of understanding was signed on cooperation in e-government in the Central American country.

It was also agreed to boost post-pandemic growth by focusing on the digital and environmental technology sectors with access for South Korean companies to technology and infrastructure projects. Moon praised the Costa Rican National Decarbonisation Plan, "which is playing a stellar role in achieving carbon neutrality", and whose strategy will be linked to the South Korean government's so-called "New Deal".

The Korean Wave or "Hallyu" is the spearhead of Korean soft power. Successful groups from this tsunami of music and reality K-pop are BTS or EXO, from the agency SM Entertainment. Also YG and JYP Entertainment. At the beginning, cultural content entered Latin America through embassies. The first ones were Chile, Venezuela, Panama... Then Peru, Argentina and Mexico joined them. In the latter, Korean immigration contributed to their success.

Selected applicants are taught dance, acting and languages. If they need plastic surgery, the company pays. "Idol music" involves a lot of people. The flip side is that this form of planned entertainment industry has seen a significant number of allegations of abuse.

BTS, TWICE and other K-pop bands will visit Mexico in 2022, where a reality show is also being prepared, as confirmed by the South Korean news agency Yonhap: "Once the show is launched, a male K-pop group from South America will be formed".

At the protests in Colombia, thousands of female K-pop fans boycotted Twitter trends. Digital activism, according to the K-popers, in favour of human rights.

PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE  - Headquarters of the South Korean company LG Electronics in Seoul

"Hallyu" also includes Korean TV series or K-dramas with big hits such as 'A Star in My Heart', 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'The Jewel in the Palace'. Unlike the Latin ones, the Korean ones have fewer episodes. Juvenile stories, romantic, dramatic, sometimes comic. Novel is the exquisite aesthetics in the love scenes that take place in extraordinary landscapes. There is zero violence unless it is a thriller.

The Korean government's Korean New Deal will revive the post-COVID-19 economy through a digital and green push, opening a window of opportunity for large companies and SMEs with an investment of $135 billion. It seeks to invest in solar and offshore wind and hydrogen.

The plan builds on Korea's nearly 22% global market share in mobile phones, 73% in memory devices and 38.8% in lithium batteries.

Koreans devote 4.5% of their GDP to R&D and innovation, with 15.3% of jobs related to research. It is a favourable context for startups and shows considerable support for universities and research institutes, which is reflected in the projects they present. According to the World Bank, Korea ranks 5th among the countries that offer the best start-up facilities. For all these reasons, it leads the 2021 Innovation Index published by Bloomberg.

South Korea was a pioneer in having a commercial 5G mobile network. Now, the implementation of 5G and the development of Artificial Intelligence make Seoul an increasingly relevant partner. Its digital and green New Deal is the great attraction of this small Asian nation of 51 million people.

In March, the Korea-Latin America Digital Cooperation Forum 2021 took place in Seoul. With plans for cooperation in 5G phone networks, digital government, cybersecurity, smart cities and smart farms, Latin American countries aim to overcome the difficulties of the digital development process by looking to Korea.

"El Americanista is an independent newsletter for understanding the key political and economic issues in Latin America. If you would like to receive it weekly in your inbox, you can subscribe for free at"