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[Herald Interview] Canada a crucial partner for Korea in reducing China risks
From batteries to real estate, partners at Canada’s Gowling WLG see huge potential in enhanced business ties between Korea and CanadaBy Im Eun-byel
Published : June 11, 2023 - 16:38
Canada has high potential to become a key trading partner for South Korea in its ongoing efforts to reduce geopolitical risks fueled by the escalating US-China rivalry, according to partners from an Ottawa-based international law firm.
As Korea looks to make the most of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, more companies are seeking to expand their presence in Canada, appreciating its proximity to the all-important US market and abundant natural resources.
“Korea has the technology and Canada has the resources,” Frank Sur, partner and head of corporate practice group at Gowling WLG, told The Korea Herald in an interview in Seoul on May 24.
“Canada is a great partner for pursuing businesses in renewable energy, critical minerals, battery and tech.”
Sur was visiting Seoul last month along with his colleague Benjamin Na, managing partner at the law firm’s Toronto office, to hold a series of business meetings. With bolstered ties between the two countries, the Korean Canadian partners are also busy more recently connecting firms of both countries for business expansion.
Gowling WLG, whose business spans across Europe and the Middle East, offers legal services for Korean entities pursuing international trade and investment opportunities in Canada, managing the legal requirements of investments, projects and financing. The firm has experience working with Korean companies on a slew of mining, energy and infrastructure projects.
“With the IRA, Korean companies are highly interested in strengthening business ties with Canada. Many big-name companies are building plants or have investment plans in Canada. The focus is on critical minerals, as they are eyeing to make their way into the US market,” Na said.
The IRA offers US consumers a tax credit of up to $7,500 for purchasing a new EV that meets some key requirements -- namely, that final assembly of the EV occurred in North America, and at least 40 percent of its battery materials were sourced from the US or within countries that have free trade agreements with the US. The battery sourcing requirements are expected to be raised gradually to 80 percent over the next few years.
“Companies can also save on logistics if they are sourcing the minerals from Canada,” Sur explained, adding the country is home to some of the largest deposits of critical minerals.
LG Energy Solution, the nation’s largest EV battery maker, is currently in talks with the local government to build a 5 trillion won ($3.9 billion) plant in Ontario in a joint venture with US carmaker Stellantis. Posco Future M, a battery materials producer affiliated with Korean steel giant Posco Holdings, has also joined hands with General Motors to build a cathode plant in Quebec.
“In a time of rising geopolitical tension and trade protectionism, Canada is a reliable partner, as it is a very neutral country,” Sur added.
The two partners stressed that cooperation between the two countries will expand beyond the battery sector, citing renewable energy and small modular reactors as areas with high potential.
Another potential area of cooperation is Canada’s soaring real estate market, they added, saying the country is in a middle of a construction boom.
“There are lots of opportunities in Canada right now in response to the recession. The government wants to build houses, towers, infrastructure projects and energy projects,” Na said.
“So there are opportunities for Korean companies to come in and invest, and also to be involved in construction.”
The law firm also helps Korean companies win construction or engineering projects in Canada by supporting their negotiations with the ordering body. Even after striking a deal, it can offer legal advice on potential conflicts that can happen midway, minimizing the legal risks.
"We are also arranging meetings for Korean companies and individuals to meet with local officials in the construction industry and introducing new investment opportunities," Sur said.
Both Sur and Na are Canadian lawyers with Korean backgrounds. While their family roots stem from Korea, they grew up in Canada and have been practicing law in the country for nearly 20 years, focusing on mergers and acquisitions, capital markets and general corporate commercial matters.
“As we have been made partner at Gowling WLG, more Korean Canadians are applying, as they can see a vision in their careers. They are inspired, and we are proud of it,” Na said.
The number of lawyers with Korean backgrounds has been continuously increasing at the international law firm.
“When we began, there weren’t many lawyers with Korean backgrounds at big law firms. But things have definitely changed now,” Sur said.
"As a person who comes from Korea, I would like to see more Korean companies and Korean people putting on good business performance in Canada."
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