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South Korean business insights for North East


The recent North East England Chamber of Commerce webinar with its South Korean equivalent brought a host of advice and insights on the Covid 19 impact on business.

Chief executive of the Seoul-based organisation is Sean Blakeley, who was born and educated in the North East.His talk to regional business leaders started by him setting the scene in the Asian country which has a similar make-up to the UK, with comparable population and a dominant economic capital, but only 267 Covid 19 deaths to date.

He said: “The situation in South Korea is about three months ahead of the UK but it was handled very differently, right from the outset of the pandemic.For example, Seoul was never the hot spot for an increase in cases like London, primarily as the Government introduced what they called the 3 ‘T’s, test, tracing and treatment straight away.

“There was a huge push to ensure everyone with the virus was identified and quarantined as soon as possible.A mobile app was also used to let anyone who could have caught it they needed to self-isolate. The importance of testing definitely prevented the virus spreading easily.”

The contrast between the UK approach to this intensive data collection, which was part of the tracing, was less of a concern to the South Korean population than ensuring the virus was contained. In the UK there is a substantial mistrust of Government freely collecting similar information.

Sean Blakeley said: “After the SARS pandemic people here placed public health as being of paramount importance.This attitude has meant that the civic response to everything such as wearing PPE and social distancing was not a problem.”

In South Korea there was also no need for a furlough scheme or lock down as the cases were so much fewer than the UK.However, there was a severe reduction in consumer spending especially at first before on-line ecommerce ramped up and subsequently rose by up to 36%.

The challenge for the Asian country going forward is its reliance on the global economy and exporting, when the rest of the world’s business communities are struggling.

He said: “We support British companies wanting to invest and export here and usually help around 50-60 to enter the South Korean marketplace either by finding an agent, investor, retailer or client.Our marketplace is definitely open, but we need the rest of the world to be back on its feet as well.

“Now that we have Covid 19 under control as best we can there is a major focus economic resilience, for example, coupons were distributed to boost consumer spending. There is also a rise in staycations and people spending on leisure activities again.

“I think South Korea has been well-equipped to handle this pandemic as it has a strong Confucian culture where hierarchy is important, so the public are inclined to take a lead from the state.

“South Korea may not be perfect, but everyone here wants to get on with life and finds there is an acceptable level of risk to do that.”