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France and South Korea

Political relations

On 4 June 1886, France and Korea signed a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, marking the start of diplomatic relations. During the Korean War, France, under the United Nations Command, provided over 3,400 troops, of whom 270 were killed in action between 1950 and 1953.

The bilateral relationship is dense and covers the political, economic, cultural and scientific fields. It is in line with the comprehensive partnership for the 21st century between France and South Korea begun in 2004 and the action plan adopted by the Heads of State in November 2015.

Recent visits

Visits to South Korea:

  • 4 November 2015: State visit by the President of the Republic, Mr François Hollande
  • 19-21 February 2016: visit by the Minister of the Urban Affairs, Youth and Sport, Mr Patrick Kanner
  • 23-25 March 2016: visit by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault
  • 6-8 May and 8-9 November 2016 and 20-22 March 2017: visits by the Minister of State for State Reform and Simplification, Mr Jean-Vincent Placé.
  • 20-21 September 2017: visit by Mr Benjamin Griveaux, Minister of State.

Visits to France:

  • 16-19 September 2015: visit by the South Korean Prime Minister, Mr Hwang Kyo-ahn.
  • 1-4 June 2016: State visit by the President , Ms Park Geun-hye.
  • June 2016: Visit by Mr Han Min-goo, Minister of National Defence.

Economic relations

Trade between France and South Korea, benefiting from the free-trade agreement signed between the EU and South Korea and which entered into force in 2011, has doubled in ten years. France has a trade surplus with South Korea that has seen strong growth: €0.6 billion in 2016 versus €1.7 billion in 2015, after a record high of €1.9 billion in 2014.

The aviation industry is a driver of French exports (34%) followed by chemicals, metals, fashion and leather goods, electronics, agrifood products and car exports. France is a leader in the luxury goods industry, ranking second in the perfume and cosmetics sector and fourth in the pharmaceuticals sector.

South Korea became France’s fourth-largest customer of France in Asia and constituted its seventh-largest global trade surplus in 2017.France was the fourth-largest European investor in South Korea in 2016. French FDI stock concentrated in financial services(50%) stands at €3.5 billion. However South Korean investments in France remain low (ranking 37 among investors with €900 million in FDI stock).

France’s presence in South Korea is significant and diversified with nearly 200 company branches in the service, automobile, transport, high-tech, chemicals and petrochemicals, hospitality, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and luxury goods sectors.

Cooperation in the field of innovation offers major prospects given the quality of basic research and the fabric of innovative start-ups (French Tech) in France, as well as Korea’s choice of prioritizing the acceleration of the development of digital technologies (“fourth industrial revolution”) and better supporting SMEs and start-ups.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

The action plan adopted in November 2015 and the 2015-2016 French-South Korean Years held at the time of the 130th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations have injected fresh impetus into our cultural, scientific and technical cooperation. More than 7 million French and South Korean citizens participated in 500 events organized in the two countries from September 2015 to December 2016 and many cooperation projects were begun.

Our two countries’ relations when it comes to cultural cooperation cover all art forms including visual arts, performing arts, literature, music, film and publishing.

With regard to university cooperation, six agreements signed during the State visit of President Hollande on 4 November 2015 in the area of education and science – including an administrative arrangement on mutual recognition of qualifications and studies – aim to enhance educational and university cooperation as well as vocational training and research cooperation between our two countries. The current construction of a Maison de la Corée in the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris is also expected to encourage South Korea students to come to France. In 2014, some 6,500 South Korean students were studying in France. South Korea now welcomes some 1,000 French students a year, thanks to nearly 400 partnerships between French and South Korean higher education institutions.

Now that a second foreign language is no longer compulsory in secondary education, the number of students learning French has dropped significantly. However, the number of French students stands at 40,000, proportionally the highest in North East Asia when population size is accounted for. A Francophonie Promotion Council was created in South Korea when the country became an observer of the International Organisation of La Francophonie in November 2016.

Updated: 26.05.17