On my visit to Seoul last week with our Interparliamentary delegation to Korea, I was interested to see that we were scheduled to visit something called the EU Gateway Exhibition, at the Coex Centre. Naturally I was initially concerned that this might be a typical piece of EU propaganda, and I approached it in a mood of open-minded scepticism. This mood was not much assuaged when I found that the programme had cost some tens of millions of euros, over two years in Seoul and seven in Japan.
However it turns out to be an apparently legitimate exercise in trade promotion, and if the EU offers British companies a subsidised opportunity to develop business in Japan and Korea (both difficult countries for Western businesses to approach cold), then we should be taking advantage of it. Some 58 companies from EU member-states had stands at the event, paying their own travel and subsistence but getting the stands and promotional support free. The sad thing was that while there were three companies from Latvia (population 2.2 million), there was none from the UK. I had hopes of a UK company when I bumped into Steve Bridges, who had been with the British Embassy when I was working in Korea in the early ‘90s, but the exhibitor he was working with now turned out to be Italian.
Naturally I enquired why there were no UK companies, and I was assured that the event had been promoted in the UK, that half a dozen companies had made tentative bookings, but all had cancelled as a result of the recession. A pity, because I heard anecdotal evidence that several of the companies exhibiting were pleased with their results and had found local agents or partners or customers.
However I heard a rather sad story from the European Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, who felt that they should have won the contract for organising the event. The contract in fact went to Eurochambres, the Brussels-based, Commission-funded NGO – which has little or no presence in Seoul. You have an interesting contrast between an in-country organisation of European businessmen in Seoul, with excellent local trade and government contacts, bidding against a Brussels-centric Eurochambres with good lobbying contacts in Brussels. So the Commission chooses to work with the top-down organisation close to home, rather than the bottom-up organisation that knows its way around Korea. Typical.
On balance, (and apart from the Eurochambres point), I decided that there was not a lot to criticise about the EU Gateway (though I should like to see a more formal analysis of results achieved). But somehow the very name of it stuck in my throat, and I couldn’t resist Tweeting “EU Gateway? Many of my constituents would rather find an EU Exit Door!”