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French Version

South Korea eyes Lebanon as gateway to Mideast market

Imports jump by $8 million in 2004

Lebanon's imports from South Korea jumped by $8 million last year due largely to surging demand for Korean cars in post-Saddam Iraq, according to a Korean trade delegation visiting Beirut.

"The Korean cars were cheap and competitive. It provided a great profit margin for traders in Lebanon," said Jad Aoun, assistant manager at the Korea Trade Center in Beirut. "They see Lebanon as an entrance to the Middle East market."

A delegation from South Korea is in town for three days to meet Lebanese investors as trade between the two countries continues to increase.

The five-company delegation represents Daejeon Province, South Korea's nerve center for IT and electronics, and aims to expand ties with Lebanon's rapidly growing IT sector.

Lebanon's IT market has doubled since 2000 and now stands at about $380 million.

"Business contacts between these two countries are growing," said Kihyung Choe, commercial attache at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Beirut. "Korea trades high-quality products that aren't as expensive as American, European, or Japanese goods."

South Korea's exports to Lebanon reached about $88 million in 2004, mostly in electronics, machinery, cars and spare car parts. Lebanon's exports to Korea consist mostly of scrap metal and hit $10 million last year, rising from $5 million in 2003.

Business boomed after the Iraq war as demand for cheap Korean autos such as Hyundai skyrocketed in Iraq.

The opening of the Iraqi economy, increasing IT trade, and industrial growth in Asia accelerated business between Lebanon and South Korea by about $13 million in 2004.

"While the market in Lebanon is small, Koreans believe the Lebanese are good traders and can sell their products outside Lebanon," Aoun said.

Sangjae Cho, who led the Korean delegation, says Korean exporters are increasingly looking to the Middle East as an important market. "The population is big and the economy is growing," he said. "It could become the second biggest market" behind the U.S.

But the blast two months ago that killed former Premier Rafik Hariri reduced trading to a trickle with Lebanon.

"In January things were looking very good," said Tina Yazedjian, assistant manager at the Korea Trade Center. "In February we had a slowdown but things are starting to pick up."

The delegation leaves Lebanon for Egypt April 16.

Companies in the delegation included ASB Inc., which manufactures power amplifiers and LNA modules; Covis Optic Co., which makes spectacle lenses; DCI Co., which makes home security and control systems; Point Industrial, which makes consumer products such as brushes, mascara, and medical products; and T.I.T. Co., which produces iron oxide pigment.

The Korea Trade Center is organizing delegations of Lebanese businesses to travel to South Korea in May and October 2005.

Beirut,04 18 2005
Will Rasmussen
The Daily Star
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