Canada Day Talk With H. E. Michael Danagher, Canadian Ambassador to South Korea

On the celebration of Canada’s 153rd birthday, we talked with His Excellency Michael Danagher, the Ambassador of Canada to South Korea.

Known as The Great White North, Canada has always had a strong global reputation which was also noted in 2017 when it ranked tops in the world by the Country RepTrak by the Reputation Institute.

The country’s impact on the world culturally, economically, and politically has shown many major achievements while its citizens are known worldwide for their politeness and good manners.

Observed on July 1st every year, Canada Day is a national holiday marking the Confederation in 1867, when the British North American Act came into effect.

In celebration of this day, we took the opportunity to talk with Canadian Ambassador His Excellency Michael Danagher to ask his thoughts on Canada’s relations with Busan, his toughest challenges so far, and how the relationship between Korea and Canada continues to grow.

Ambassador Danagher’s Long Ties With Korea

Image courtesy of the Embassy of Canada

Hailing from Northern Ontario, Ambassador Danagher has had three tours in Korea, though this is his first appointment at the top post, a position which he has held since September 2018.

A career foreign service officer since 1987, he’s had six overseas postings, working in Nigeria, Vietnam, and Hungary as well as three tours in Korea since his first visit to the country in 1992.

According to his biography, he has served on assignment in Canadian diplomatic missions in Lagos and in Seoul, and as Senior Trade Commissioner in Hanoi and Budapest. He served in Seoul for a second assignment as Senior Trade Commissioner and Minister-Counsellor at the Embassy of Canada.

He lives with his wife Stephanie in Seoul while his three grown children remain in Canada.

Image courtesy of the Embassy of Canada

25-Year Anniversary Between Canada and Busan

We really focused on the trade development side on a few key sectors like outbound tourism, education, certainly seafood and ocean tech, that’s where Korea, Busan was very strong. 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of relations between Canada and Busan, with a celebration held earlier this February at Park Hyatt Busan highlighting the strong ties between the two.

With more business and cultural opportunities presenting themselves, the Honorary Consulate in Busan was opened on January 27, 1995 by the First Honorary Consul Mr. Goo Hyung Woo, the former President of Bumin Mutual Saving & Finance Bank and was followed in 2004 by current and Second Honorary Consul Mr. Baek Jeong Ho, Chairman of the Dongsung Group.

Early on in the 1990s, Canada saw a lot of opportunities as Busan was becoming a vibrant and important commercial center.

“We really focused on the trade development side on a few key sectors like outbound tourism, education, certainly seafood and ocean tech, that’s where Korea, Busan was very strong,” Danagher said.

With approximately 1,200 Canadians currently living in the city, Korea’s second-largest city has become a vital part of improving cultural and business exchanges. Busan and Montreal also became sister cities on September 19, 2000.

Image courtesy of the Embassy of Canada

Canada’s activities in Busan include cultural exchanges, trade and investment, and exchange programs and MOUs between Busan and Canadian Universities among others.

Some highlights include The Embassy of Canada and Canadian gaming companies participating in G-Star every year at BEXCO, Canadian seafood companies participating in the Busan International Seafood and Fisheries Expo, and last year, Busan startups entered Canada’s market through the support of Busan Center for Creative Economy & Innovation (CCEI).

“Busan has done incredible work in trying to establish itself as a regional city in its own right,” Ambassador Danagher noted. “I think certainly from an Embassy standpoint we are here in Seoul for obvious reasons, but we certainly don’t forget Busan or for that matter other important cities in Korea.”

Canada’s Response to COVID-19 in Korea

I think I’ve got a very strong consular team here and you know we monitor what the reaction is in the Canadian community here.”

When I asked what has been his biggest challenge so far in Korea, Ambassador Danagher did not hesitate to think of his answer.

“COVID.”

As every country has been dealing with its citizens in Korea, Canada not only has relied on the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information but its own citizens who have helped the Embassy keep abreast of the situation in each city by using its warden network.

As many Canadians decided to stay in place in Korea rather than return home, the Embassy committed itself to provide up-to-date and essential updates to its citizens.

Through six warden teleconferences since March, the consular team has utilized its 43 Canadian wardens located in 28 districts throughout Korea to find out information on what’s happening around the country, as well as providing about 15 to 20 essential email updates to Canadians through its consular services.

Ambassador Danagher praised his consular team for their efforts in keeping Canadians informed on the coronavirus situation in Korea.

“I think I’ve got a very strong consular team here and you know we monitor what the reaction is in the Canadian community here,” he said.

He also was very thankful of the wardens who play an important role to the Embassy by voluntarily conveying important information to Canadians and assisting during emergency situations such as COVID.

“I know they’re very committed to Canada and we’re delighted to have them work in alignment with our embassy.”

Looking Ahead to the Future

The Koreans will tell us that this is their most fully used bilateral S&T agreement and I think from a Canadian perspective, we are equally delighted that there is so much interest in pursuing joint S&T research projects with Korean partnerships.

As Canada and South Korea’s relationship continues to grow and prosper since diplomatic ties were established in 1963, the 2015 Free Trade Agreement between the two countries has seen a 33.7% increase in bilateral trade volume in the three-year period between 2015 and 2018 since it was signed according to the Korean Customs Service.

Ambassador Danagher noted that the success of the Science and Technology agreement has been one of the most beneficial and successful for both countries.

Image courtesy of the Embassy of Canada

“The Koreans will tell us that this is their most fully used bilateral S&T agreement and I think from a Canadian perspective, we are equally delighted that there is so much interest in pursuing joint S&T research projects with Korean partnerships,” he said.

Two of the larger sections where the Embassy has focused on include trade development and public affairs which represent Canadian interests in Korea, and with more diversification in trade possibilities, the Embassy has been providing commercial assistance through its trade commissioners services.

“The band of services that the trade commissioners offer includes things like troubleshooting, providing resources such as local partner contacts, it’s also in normal times servicing events that bring people together.”

O Canada

On the occasion of Canada’s 153rd birthday, the Ambassador had some encouraging words for its citizens in Korea, at home, and abroad.

“Chins up to everybody, eventually we’ll be through this, we all know that, but I think in the meantime it’s important to exercise all those aspects of good citizenship as a Canadian and as a resident in Korea which includes creating a better world and reflecting those Canadian values that are more and more reflected in Korean values.”

Jeff Liebsch
Jeff Liebsch has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Eurobasket, Tribal Football and Yonhap News. He can be followed on Twitter at @chevybusan.

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