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Canada - Korea Relations

Canada has long enjoyed positive relations with the Republic of Korea (commonly known as South Korea), strengthened by Canada’s first free trade agreement with an Asian partner - the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA) - which entered into force on January 1, 2015. Canada’s involvement in the Korean War and sustained positive political and economic cooperation also contribute to this relationship. The friendly bilateral relationship continues to develop as South Korea becomes an increasingly important economic partner and a like-minded ally in multilateral forums. Both countries also share similar views on many multilateral and global issues, including strengthening the multilateral trading system, UN Security Council reform, human rights and nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Historical Roots

Korea-Canada relations date back to 1888, when Canadian missionary James Scarth Gale of Toronto was first sent to Korea. Famous in Korea for his creation of the first Korean-English dictionary, Gale also prepared the first Korean translation of the Christian Bible, and wrote the first substantial English-language history of Korea. Noted scholar and philanthropist Dr. Oliver Avison was a personal physician to King Gojong and founded the Severance Hospital in Seoul, and the medical college that became Yonsei University. Dr. Francis Schofield of Guelph, Ontario, became a national hero in Korea for his participation in the 1919 Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule. Dr. Schofield is the only foreigner to be buried in the patriots’ section of the Korea National Cemetery.

Canada’s official involvement in Korea began in 1947, when Canada participated in the United Nations Commission supervising free elections. Formal recognition of the Republic of Korea (ROK) followed in 1949. Canada contributed 26,791 troops, the third-largest contingent, to United Nations Command (UNC) in the 1950-53 Korean War and suffered 516 fatalities. Since the end of the Korean War, Canada has contributed to security on the Korean peninsula through its continuing presence on the UNC Military Armistice Commission and UN Command. Canada and Korea established formal diplomatic relations in 1963 and, 10 years later, Canada opened its Embassy in South Korea. In 2013, Canada and Korea celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Both countries designated 2013 the Year of Korea in Canada and the Year of Canada in Korea. As 2013 also marked the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, Canada and Korea participated in both bilateral and multilateral commemoration ceremonies and activities, underlining the bonds of friendship formed during the Korean War, a defining period in the development of our relations. In 2013, Canada designated July 27 – the anniversary date of the end of active hostilities – as an annual Day of Remembrance in Honour of Veterans of the Korean War.

South Korea’s rapid development, democratic evolution and growing regional and international interests, together with its entry into the United Nations in 1991 and accession to the OECD Development Assistance Committee in 2010 have enhanced co-operation between Canada and Korea in a number of areas such as arms control, disarmament, peacekeeping, and development assistance. In addition, Canada and Korea share membership in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), amongst others.

Bilateral Trade and Investment

Canada and South Korea enjoy strong commercial relations, underpinned by the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Korea is Canada’s 7th largest merchandise trading partner and our 3rd largest in Asia, after China and Japan. Korea is a priority market for Canada, being a key gateway to the wider Asia-Pacific region and offering strategic access to regional and global value chains. Sectors with high potential for Canadian companies include agriculture, education, information and communications technology (ICT), and sustainable technologies, as well as forest products.

Canada-Korea two-way merchandise trade is robust, reaching $15 billion in 2016. Canada exported $4.4 billion of merchandise to Korea in 2016, consisting primarily of coal, agricultural products, forest products (wood, pulp and paper), iron ore, and chemicals and plastics. Canadian merchandise imports from Korea for the same year totaled nearly $10.6 billion in goods, which included a one-off delivery of a $2.9 billion module for an oil platform in Newfoundland. Canadian services exports to Korea in 2016 totalled $889 million, while services imports totalled $527 million. Foreign direct investment in Canada from Korea was valued at $1.5 billion at the end of 2016, while Canadian investments in Korea were valued at $1.7 billion.

People-to-People Linkages

Canada and Korea share strong people-to-people linkages stemming from historical connections, which are enhanced by increasing immigration and tourism flows, as well as student exchanges. An average of 5,250 South Koreans immigrated to Canada annually between 2006 and 2016, contributing to a community of approximately 170,000 Canadians identifying themselves as being of Korean origin. Over 26,000 Canadians currently reside in South Korea, including about 3,200 language teachers. South Korea ranked ninth with over 177,000 Korean tourists visiting Canada in 2015, spending almost $252 million. South Korea is Canada’s fastest growing source of tourism, with visits increasing over 65% from September 2015 to September 2016.

Canada-Korea Strategic Partnership

The Canada-Korea bilateral relationship entered a “new era” in 2014, with reciprocal leader-level visits in that year, the upgrading of relations to a “Strategic Partnership,” and the signing of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA).

The 2014 Strategic Partnership between Canada and South Korea calls for stronger relations in key areas of common interest, including energy and natural resources; science, technology and innovation; and Arctic research and development. The Canada-Korea Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Agreement was signed on December 20, 2016, in Seoul and entered into force on May 17, 2017.

Canada and Korea have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on International Development Cooperation, which establishes a framework for closer cooperation between the two countries in three broad areas: policy dialogue, institutional linkages and programming.

Canada-Korea Security Relations

Canadian interests in South Korea arise from a desire to ensure continued stability on the peninsula and regionally, and to enhance our important and growing bilateral relationship. Canada and South Korea are partners in promoting global peace and security. We are both committed to the UN system and cooperate on security issues in other fora such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC. We each have important alliances with the United States. 

Canada firmly supports South Korea’s in the face of continuing and to lessen tensions on the divided peninsula. The two Koreas technically remain at war, as hostilities were concluded with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Canada remains gravely concerned about North Korea’s provocative and destabilizing actions, such as nuclear and missile tests and related proliferation, and coordinates closely with South Korea in response to these activities.

In recent years, Canada has enhanced its presence in United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees the implementation of the Korean War Armistice Agreement via the UNC’s Military Armistice Commission. Canada has a sustained contribution of six Canadian Forces members embedded in UNC.  Canada has also increased its role in exercises to contribute to stability and security in the region.  These exercises include strategic planning and consultations with military and diplomatic counterparts from participating partners and allied nations, and are designed to enhance the readiness of the Combined Forces Command on the Korean Peninsula.

For more detail on Canada’s defence relations to South Korea please visit the Defence Relations page

January 2018

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