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Park Seeks Closer Economic Partnership with Switzerland

According to Yonhap News,

(BERN = Yonhap News) South Korean President Park Geun-hye held a summit with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter on Monday as she seeks to forge greater cooperation with the world's most competitive economy, especially in the vocational training and high-tech industries.

Switzerland, though small in size with a population of mere 8 million, is the world's 20th-largest economy in terms of gross national product. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found the European economy the most competitive in the world for the fifth consecutive year last year.

Behind the economic success of Switzerland, a resource-scarce nation like South Korea, is a highly skilled labor force, and a key point of Park's state visit to the country is to take a firsthand look at the country's vocational education and learn from it, officials said.

On the sidelines of Park's visit, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for providing vocational training opportunities in Switzerland every year for 20 young South Koreans working at Swiss companies after graduating from vocational high schools.

The agreement between the Korea Institute for the Advancement of Technology and the Swiss mechanical and electrical engineering industries (SWISSMEN) is meaningful in that Switzerland has rarely opened its vocational training system to foreign countries, officials said.

Park arrived in Bern on Saturday, becoming the first South Korean president to make a state visit to Switzerland since the two sides opened diplomatic relations in 1963. While in Switzerland, Park also plans to attend an annual WEF meeting at the ski resort of Davos.

Other economic topics for Monday's summit include bolstering cooperation in finance, science and technology, and other sectors. A total of 12 cooperation agreements will be signed, including a memorandum of understanding on industrial technology cooperation, officials said.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss ways to increase cooperation in climate change and other global issues and talk about security issues such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, officials said.

Ahead of the summit, Park and Burkhalter jointly attended a forum of business leaders.

During a speech, Park championed her "creative economy" vision, stressing that innovation and creativity are the "best growth engines" for resource-lacking countries like Switzerland and South Korea and that the two countries can generate great synergy if their merits are combined.

Switzerland boasts of top-notch technologies in precision machinery, chemical and medical industries, while South Korea is strong in mobile phone manufacturing, shipbuilding and LCD monitor production.

If their strong points are combined, it will create new growth engines, Park said.

Park also called for both countries to increase investments in each other and study ways to jointly enter third-nation markets. Cooperation with South Korea would fit strategies of Swiss firms trying to expand overseas as the country is linked to other markets through free trade agreements (FTAs), she said.

"South Korea already has FTAs with the United States, the EU and Southeast Asian nations, and has been in FTA negotiations with China as well," she said. "South Korea would serve as a good bridgehead for small and medium-enterprises of Switzerland to expand into these huge markets."

Park later had lunch with Burkhalter and his wife, during which the Swiss president recalled his visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas and asked Park about when the two Koreas will be able to eliminate the buffer zone and unify.

Park responded that she firmly believes that the DMZ, though it is now a heavily militarized area, will certainly be gone in the future, and outlined her vision to turn the DMZ into an international peace park.

Copyrights Yonhap News. All Rights Reserved.

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Source: Yonhap News (Jan. 20, 2014)

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