Going Dutch in Korea

“After China, South Korea is the most important trading partner of the Netherlands in Asia, with exports growing 30% over the past five years. Conversely, Korean companies exported goods and services to us worth € 2.6 billion as we are the fourth destination in Europe. So every reason for the Dutch government to organise another trade mission, led by PM Mark Rutte, only two years after a very successful trip to Japan and Korea with the Dutch King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima. Travelling with the CEO delegation, I took the opportunity to meet clients and see the new office in Seoul.”

Jeroen Plag

A blog by Jeroen Plag, head of Client Coverage Americas, Asia & UK, ING, on a trade mission in South Korea.

For ING Korea, as it is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the trade mission provided an opportunity to have PM Rutte officially open our new office. We were recently granted a securities licence, furthering our local presence and product capabilities for Korean investors looking to invest overseas. Tall Dutch officials, as well as Guus Hiddink, still create a stir in Korea, also among female staff in the office, who were obviously very proud to have the Dutch PM come and visit!

Obviously, with high level officials visiting, security protocol was very strict. During the subsequent Orange Bike event, where 12 Dutch companies donated 220 bicycles to the city of Seoul, there was a bit less protocol. Together with Mark Rutte, Guus Hiddink, who still enjoys massive popularity in the country after leading the country to the World Cup semi finals in 2002, handed over the keys to the mayor of Seoul. But only after Guus actually took a bike, followed by PM Rutte and the mayor of Seoul – and cycled away across the crowd onto the square in front of city hall. This did not follow the agreed protocol and Korean security guards immediately responded. However, getting on a bike and following was easier said than done...

I briefly had a chance to ask Guus Hiddink whether he had broken protocol on more occasions. He replied that he did it all the time - and still enjoyed doing it, whenever he comes back to Korea. After all, it was by breaking protocol and hierarchy in the Seoul football team that he had led them to eternal fame, back in 2002!

One final Dutch angle this week was the announcement of the long debated anti-graft or anti-corruption law in Korea. Wining and dining business and political relations, cash gifts to teachers and other kind of gifts have always been an integral way of doing business. In order to open up and provide further transparency, lawmaker Kim Young Ran pushed through his so called Ran Act. Instead of paparazzi, a new study at college aims at preparing students for Ranparazzi: reporting those not sticking to the new corruption law!


Korea inside image


However, the law is also called the Dutch Law, as people now have to go Dutch for lunch. Luckily the trade mission achieved a lot of positive momentum, without splitting the lunch bill!

The following day I left for Japan to meet clients and discuss opportunities to further expand opportunities and investments, including in Europe. Japan's economy is still suffering from very low economic growth and recently the BoJ governor vowed to keep rates at historic lows until growth reaches 2% again. The upcoming Olympics are creating lots of infrastructure investments across the capital, although the level has recently been criticised as existing facilities could be revamped instead of new builds.

During the various meetings with major Japanese clients, Brexit was a frequently discussed topic. One car manufacturer actually announced that it was postponing further investment pending further clarity, whilst entry into the European market from London remains key for Japanese banks. For now, lack of clarity on the actual Brexit scenario clouds any decision making.


Follow me: @jeroenplag


(September/October 2016)