A 30-strong delegation of politicians, officials and entrepreneurs from South Korea visited the region for the first time when they made a tour of the Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham on Tuesday.
During the visit, a Memorandums Of Understanding (MOU) was signed between representatives of the Korea Venture Business Association, Rotherham Investment and Development Organisation (RiDO) and The University of Sheffield.
The agreement sets a framework for RiDO and the university to work with small and medium businesses represented by the Korean delegation in terms of potential future trade agreements, training and investment.
They plan to do this through liaising with businesses involved with the AMRC, which identifies, researches and resolves advanced manufacturing problems.
Professor Sir Keith Burnet, vice chancellor of the University of Sheffield, told the delegation: “We greatly admire the manufacturing prowess of Korea.
“It has done the most extraordinary and wonderful things across a whole range of activities.
“We believe we have here something to offer to your Korean colleagues. We would love to be your partners in the next generation of products.”
The delegation included minister Jeonghwa Han, the chief executive officer of the Republic of Korea’s Small & Medium Enterprise Association, which comprises of 99.9 per cent of all companies in the country.
The high-profile visit was conceived and delivered by INKE, the International Network of Korean Entrepreneurs – with 1,500 member companies in 49 countries worldwide – and the Rotherham-based chairman of its UK chapter, Dabriel Choi.
Mr Choi described the visit as ‘massively significant’ and added it raised ‘South Yorkshire’s profile in South Korea as a manufacturing base and introduced innovative, entrepreneurial Korean companies to the region to create mutually advantageous co-operation.’
Councillor Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council, said the visit was key to showing the Korean delegates local business leaders are ‘supportive and active in bringing investment and quality long-term jobs into the region’.
Tim O’ Connell, RiDO’s business and retail investment manager, said: “We want to build a relationship with South Korea and get on the radar of investors – show them we have a strong manufacturing supply chain and that we’re well positioned for those wanting to get into the European market.”
South Korea invested £7.6bn in the UK in 2014, second in the EU only to the Netherlands. UK investment in the RoK over the same period was £7.9bn.
UK-RoK trade in 2014 totalled £8.4bn, 21 per cent up on 2013.
The UK is now South Korea’s second-largest trading partner among EU countries.
Exports of UK goods increased 82 per cent year-on-year in 2012, making South Korea the single largest growth market for UK exports.
The country’s small and medium enterprises sector generates some £63.3bn-worth of exports a year.