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Regrets over no FTA, but many great memories

Korea Herald

Regrets over no FTA, but many great memories

By Yoav Cerralbo

9 January 2006

"When I started four years ago I had a full head of hair and no grey hair," New Zealand Ambassador David Taylor jokingly told the Korea Herald before leaving the harsh Korean winter for the green pastures of a Kiwi summer.

But the humor was simply aimed at masking his emotions about leaving the country he and his wife, Theresa, have called home. Taylor said he is sorry to go, but at least in his new job, he won’t be considered a stranger when he makes frequent visits to Seoul.

"I’ve met people from all walks of life and all different fields of endeavor. and it was just so much fun. Korea is full of so many lively, interesting people and things to do and see, that it’s really hard to leave," he said.

At 46 years-old, Taylor is returning to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington where he will be Director-General for the North Asia Division, which covers the two Koreas, Japan, China, Taiwan and Mongolia. Even with all the great memories and his tireless work in bringing close relations even closer, his one major regret is leaving without making significant progress on a free trade agreement.

"We’ve worked very closely with a wide range of friends and the government, business community and the National Assembly and sought to build an awareness why an agreement with New Zealand makes sense, but our size and the issue of agriculture counts against us," he calmly said.

But ever the optimist, Taylor is confident that as Korea continues its journey down the track of free trade, the benefits of signing an agreement with New Zealand will become clearer, especially with the coming year’s high level engagements on the horizon.

For "The Land of the Long White Cloud" to have a successful relationship with "The Land of the Mourning Calm," Taylor pointed out that it’s important to avoid trade diversion issues which are going to be a challenge for both nations as they sign FTAs with other countries.

"If you look at the speed with which China is growing and the linkages it’s developing, New Zealand is likely to be the first OECD country to sign an FTA with China," Taylor said.

FTAs make good business sense for two countries with great relations. New Zealand is Korea’s seventh largest trading partner with a balanced two-way trade of over 1.4 trillion won. New Zealand sells mostly commodities to Korea and in return buys manufactured goods like cars and electronics.

The services sector is significant also. "Korea is our second largest source of students; there are about 17,000 students from Korea studying in New Zealand last year at all levels."

In the tourism sector, around 120,000 Koreans visited New Zealand last year. "We’ve also got a sizable Korean migrant community in excess of 30,000 people," Taylor said.

Regrets aside, Taylor has notched up some significant achievements in his efforts to bring both countries closer together.

"I’ve tried to heighten people’s awareness that New Zealand is not just a friendly and beautiful country with great education and lots opportunities for Korean people, but also a place that has a lot of creativity, depth of strength in the science and technology area, in film, and education.

"Through the activities of the embassy team, we have tried to make people aware of those strengths. So I think there is a greater recognition of those sorts of things now in Korea then there was."

An avid golfer, Taylor mentioned that one of his most memorable moments in Korea was his now famous hole-in-one on Oct. 2003 at the East Valley Golf Course. It was the first time an ambassador hit that golden shot in Korean history, "so that’s quite special and its also my first one in my life."

It was at a par three when the magic moment happened. Right after the golfers dream came true he quickly got on the telephone to four people.

The first call was to his limo driver to bring champagne to the golf course for celebrations after the tournament. The second call was to his golf professional "who has helped my golf game tremendously."

The next call was to his wife, who wasn’t as impressed as his golf pro but still gave him congratulatory remarks. "She’s not really into the game," Taylor conceded ruefully.

"The fourth call was to my dad in New Zealand and dad just wanted to talk and talk and talk so I said ’look dad I’m still in the game I’ll call you back.’"

With all that excitement his legs turned to jelly which triggered a deterioration in his golf game for the rest of the day.

Afterwards, two Australian friends told him that he had to put a commemorative rock on the golf course to record the event and even offered to pay, but because Taylor is not a member of the golf club the management declined the offer.

One of Taylor’s positive traits is his ability to organize highly successful social events. Just last week his embassy held a screening of Narnia to a packed house of friends and diplomats at a movie theater in Insa-dong.

"All the social activities that we’ve arranged - showing films, friends coming over to watch the games (All Blacks rugby matches), musicians we’ve brought over, wine and food functions I’ve done at the residence - are all the tools of the trade," he said.

It is often perceived that the diplomatic corps is all about parties and fun, but in actuality Taylor said, it’s not.

"It’s all about using those occasions to take aspects of relationships further so there is a serious purpose to all of those activities and it’s hard work and long hours.

"It might look fun, but you’re doing it seven days a week and it’s very much a part of the job and expectation that my government has of me and that people here have in ambassadors," he said.

Taylor went on to explain that it’s a fairly demanding lifestyle that takes away from spending time with family and personal pursuits "but I’ve certainly enjoyed everything that’s been asked of me in Korea."

Taylor’s successor is Jane Coombs who will arrive in late January. She will be one of the first female ambassadors in Seoul. "Her husband is a jazz singer so I’ve been saying to the Vershbows (the U.S. Ambassador to Korea) that you got the makings of a jazz band now, so the Singing Ambassadors can retire," he said with a laugh.