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S. Korea-Italy Relations
Italy has traditionally been linked to the Republic of Korea by close relations of friendship and positive cooperation in the political, economic and cultural sectors.
In 2004, we celebrate the 120th year of diplomatic relations. Official state-to-state relations between our two countries started as early as 1884 and were resumed after the liberation of Korea in 1945.
Italy has been one of the first European countries to establish diplomatic relations with Korea which was known at the time as the ``Hermit Kingdom.'' The first envoy nominated by the king of Italy as minister plenipotentiary to Korea, Ferdinando De Luca, took his functions in Seoul on April 5,1885.
Italy participated in the Korean War, albeit it was itself emerging out of the debris of the Second World War, with a field hospital which treated 17,000 patients during that war.
More recently, the excellent bilateral relations have been further deepened by the state visit paid by former President Kim Dae-jung to Italy in March 2000, the first time for a Korean head of state to come to our country.
During that occasion and in the following months, several agreements were signed in order to promote economic and industrial cooperation, tourism and social security for expatriate workers.
Italy is also very supportive of the engagement policy pursued by the Korean government towards Pyongyang and is following closely the developments in North Korea, its process of gradual opening and of dialogue with the Republic of Korea and the outside world.
In the framework of a close coordination with Seoul and European and Western partners, Italy launched a diplomatic initiative toward North Korea which led to the establishment of diplomatic relations in January 2000 and to the visit in March of that year of the Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini to Pyongyang. This was the first ever visit to North Korea by a G7 government's representative.
Following recent developments, we now hope that the six-party talks will soon resume and lead to a peaceful settlement of all open issues in the Korean Peninsula, so as to contribute to the stability of the entire Far East region.
Turning now to economic and commercial relations, the financial crisis in 1997-98 was a watershed. Italy contributed to the international efforts in support of Korea with the so-called ``line of second defense,'' a fund put aside by several countries in the frame of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policy to stabilize the Korean economy.
After the crisis and the rapid recovering of the Korean economy, bilateral trade flourished and passed from a low of $2.7 billion in 1998 to almost $6 billion in 2004.
Trade relations between Italy and Korea are going through a period of swift expansion and growth rates of imports and exports are often double-digit. Investments from one to the other country, which suffered from some years of stagnation, are now gradually improving.
Delegations of businessmen and public officials carry out an increasing number of visits to search for business opportunities, to participate to fairs and exhibitions and to establish links.
Although it is totally subjective, South Koreans often rank Italy in the first place as the most familiar country among all the European countries, since they notice a resemblance between their character and the Italian one.
Be it a geographic consequence (both countries are peninsulas), be it merely a coincidence, it is widely acknowledged that many South Koreans identify themselves with Italians.
This affinity also reflects in the economic side of our relations. In terms of bilateral trade, South Korea and Italy have been sharing a long history in such a wide and diversified way that its trade comprises more sectors than one might assume.
Fashion, food, wine, jewelry and interior design are usually the most ``Made in Italy'' worldwide representative products, but among the most imported Italian products in South Korea in the year 2004, the machinery sector surprisingly was number one in ranking.