|New Dominican Ambassador Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the embassy in Seoul, Feb. 16, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Dominican Independence Day on Feb. 27, 1844. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
Ambassador beckons Korea to be top source to shoot film in Caribbean nation
By Yi Whan-woo
With his first celebration of Dominican Independence Day in Korea coming Feb. 27, new Dominican Ambassador Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo is interested in the resemblance between his country's post-independence development and Korea's economic success.
"You are several decades of experience ahead of us," he humbly says, yet not forgetting to mention the Dominican Republic, after gaining independence from Haiti in 1844, is at least nine times richer than its former invader, which shares the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean.
The Republic ― since 1991 and before the COVID-19 crisis ― had been the fastest growing economy in the Americas. It is also the largest exporter of medical devices in the Caribbean.
Under President Luis Abinader, who took office in August 2020, the Republic is looking to the decarbonized economy, accelerated digitization and strengthening social safety nets to take the country to a higher level as a way of "building-back better."
Ambassador Cuello Camilo believes that expanding and diversifying investment and trade with Korea can help reach its goals faster, noting that work is well under way with successful presence of 20 Korean enterprises in his country.
Samsung Electronics, SK Energy and Service (E&S), POSCO Engineering and Construction (E&C) and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) are the four major Korean companies operating in the Dominican Republic so far.
"I cannot say we were richer, because we were not rich, but our per capita income was higher than Korea at the end of the Korean War. And where are you now? You are one of the top 10 countries in terms of GDP," he told the Korea Times during an interview at the embassy in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Feb. 16.
Having arrived in Korea, Dec. 7, Cuello Camilo said he is "extremely impressed with the vibrancy, as well as the measures against the pandemic, and hospitality of the people I have met."
"That's probably why my government sent me here to convince Korea to be a leading partner in supporting our growth by bringing onboard many of its innovative policies and businesses," he added.
The areas of Dominican interests and potential cooperation range from electronics to clean energy for transportation, biotechnology, medical devices, sustainable development, textiles, filmmaking, tourism, and culture, among others.
"All are important for both countries in some ways: to build resilience for world supply chains, to help decarbonize the world, and of course, to strengthen bilateral ties even more," the ambassador said.
Cuello Camilo was optimistic about the potential of expanded cooperation with Korea.
Also a former ambassador to the United Kingdom, he pointed out that Korea, despite "not having yet" a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the Dominican Republic, had exports amounting to $252 million in 2019, about 40 percent higher than the U.K., which at the time was still a party to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Caribbean countries and the EU. Because of Brexit, a separate EPA was negotiated to ensure continuity of trade between the U.K. and the Caribbean.
Formerly an economist and trade negotiator, Cuello Camilo's diplomatic career started since 1999, serving as head of mission at the U.N. and the WTO in Geneva, the EU in Brussels, the U.N. in New York (working closely with former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to whom he expressed great admiration for his leadership with Agenda 2030), the U.K. and Qatar.
|Dominican President Luis Abinader arrives in an electric car for his inauguration at the presidential palace in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, Aug. 16, 2020. The photo symbolizes the commitment of the Abinader administration to the transition to sustainable and clean energy, which is an area of bilateral cooperation that the Dominican Republic wants to bolster. Courtesy of Embassy of the Dominican Republic|
Electronics, clean energy for transportation
The Dominican Republic has bilateral and multilateral trade pacts that allow the country direct access to more than 930 million consumers around the world, including in North, Central and South America, as well as Europe.
Among these pacts are the Dominican Republic-Central America FTA (DR-CAFTA), the Dominican-Republic-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Free Trade Agreement and the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM)-European Union EPA.
"The Dominican Republic is like an aircraft carrier for investors, who can rely on their operations in our territory to shoot their products in all directions without any kind of barriers," Cuello Camilo said. "You can see the Dominican Republic is already attractive but the times call for diversification if we are to meet our common goals in decarbonizing the economy, digitalizing society and increasing the resilience of supply chains. This is where new investment from Korea should come in."
The Caribbean country specifically wants investment on manufacturing for semiconductors, fuel cell and other environment-friendly energy, both for electricity generation and for next-generation modes of transport.
|Workers wear protective clothing at a medical equipment manufacturing plant at Itabo Export Processing Zone (EPZ) near the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo in January 2020. Courtesy of Embassy of the Dominican Republic|
For potential partners in biotechnology and medical devices, the envoy picked Korea's leading pharmaceutical company, Celltrion, and SK Group, with its affiliates, such as SK Biopharmaceuticals and SK Bioscience, being in the relevant businesses.
On infrastructure projects, the Dominican Minister of Industry and Trade Victor Bisono provided him with clear instructions to approach the Busan Port Authority with a view to exploring their possible interest in assisting development and eventually operating the Port of Manzanillo in the country's northwest.
Korean New Deal, green institutions
The envoy spoke highly of President Moon Jae-in's Korean New Deal, a package of measures designed to create jobs and spur growth to revive the coronavirus-hit economy through the two pillars of "Digital New Deal" and "Green New Deal."
The signature projects include eco-friendly mobility, a smart healthcare infrastructure, green energy, and the digitization of social infrastructure.
The Korean New Deal serves as a stepping stone to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
"President Moon Jae-in's Korean New Deal is exactly what the world needs and also what the Dominican Republic wants to achieve," he said.
"I really feel blessed to be here at this moment of innovation that characterizes Korea right now. These efforts reflect how you came out of the destruction of the war in the 1950s to become a leading country in the world by always keeping ahead of the curve. I think it will be a great opportunity to work together and strengthen our cooperation."
The ambassador viewed the fact that Korea is the home of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) ― both related to the United Nations ― as making it even a better partner.
"Even if Korea didn't have these organizations, Korea clearly would be a partner for us. But the presence of these two institutions demonstrates Korea's leadership in sustainability," Cuello Camilo said.
Both the GCF and the GGGI were founded when former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in office. They share the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by Ban.
Cuello Camilo expressed hope to work with the former U.N. chief again, noting that he was the permanent representative to the U.N. headquarters during Ban's tenure, who now leads the GGGI.
|Johnny Depp, center, an American actor, is seen during the shooting of "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" at Samana beach, in the eastern Dominican Republic, in the early 2000s. The Caribbean nation has been a popular filming location for Hollywood films such as "The Godfather II" and "The Good Shepherd." Courtesy of Embassy of the Dominican Republic|
Taking into account the 2020 Oscar-winning "Parasite" and other acclaimed Korean movies, Cuello Camilo proposed that Korean filmmakers should keep coming back for more to rely on the Dominican Republic as a filming location.
If realized, Korea would be the leading country in East Asia to make films in the Dominican Republic.
"Way Back Home" was shot in 2013, screened with great success and still available in Netflix, the go-to place for the craze for Korean films that hit Dominican fans.
"This year, there is more to come," the ambassador said, adding "Today the producers of 'Suriname' came over to share their plans about filming on Dominican locations since October 2021 in partnership with Lantica Media."
The Caribbean nation offers a 25 percent transferable tax credit and value-added tax exemption for productions that spend at least $50,000 locally.
Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios ― a joint venture between U.K. Pinewood Studios and Lantica Media, a family of INICIA Group in the Republic ― offers four sound stages and a full diving and marine department centered on a 60,500 square-foot water tank.
Also, thanks to its mostly sunny weather, trained personnel and affordable payroll, the country has been a filming location for the movies and documentaries produced by major Hollywood studios, as well as Netflix, Amazon and BBC, among others, according to Cuello Camilo.
"As a result, 2020 meant no crisis for the Dominican Republic, concluding productions on location worth a record $80 million," the ambassador said. "The interest in Korea is immense. And we look forward to working with more Korean producers. In fact, a second film is already in the pipeline for this year."
The envoy speculated that capitalizing on the Dominican Republic as a filming location for Korean productions could be positive for the recovery of tourism.
"It is the one sector that suffered the most," the ambassador said, explaining how tourism used to account for around 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product before its size shrank by 76 percent after the pandemic.
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the Caribbean Sea on the south, the tropical island paradise boasts about 1,600 kilometers of coastline, including the world's top white sand beaches.
The interior of the country has three notable mountain ranges, along with underground caves, waterfalls and rivers that span the country. At over 3,000 meters high, Pico Duarte is not only the highest mountain in the Caribbean, but it's also about 1,000 meters taller than Mount Halla in Korea.
It is home to luxury tourism, designer golf courses and horseback riding excursions.
Being the first European colony in the Americas after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Dominican Republic is where streets, churches, universities and other traces of the first European settlement can be found.
Additionally, the capital city of Santo Domingo is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the western hemisphere.
"Korean movies are sought after across the world. Whatever is filmed by Korean filmmakers will be appreciated in the rest of Asia and the world. Producing more Korean movies in the Dominican Republic, that would surely be a plus for my country's tourism," Cuello Camilo said.
|New Dominican Ambassador Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the embassy in Seoul, Feb. 16. Also a former ambassador to the United Kingdom, he wants to revive the "Dominican Week" campaign in Korea. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
1st Dominican Week campaign in November
Promotion, according to the ambassador, is one of the essential tools of diplomacy.
The envoy plans to revive the success of "Dominican Week" had during his 2011-2019 ambassadorship in the U.K. to raise awareness about the Republic in Korea.
An all-out promotional campaign, its target areas include investment, trade, economy, politics, diplomacy, history, culture, gastronomy, music, dance and sports.
The envoy hosted "Dominican Week" in the U.K seven times, through which he said he "saw a doubling of tourism and trade."
"We can achieve it here in Seoul. It's going to be wonderful," Cuello Camilo said.
The Seoul campaign he envisions in November includes visits of three ministers ― of trade, energy and culture, respectively ― a grand reception, a culinary event of Dominican cuisine and an exhibition of 25 masterpieces of Dominican painting at Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
Entitled, "The Republic of Color," the exhibition will highlight the country's racial, ethnic and cultural mix, and of course, its creativity and the vibrancy of its colors.
With regards to sports, the ambassador expected baseball to continue to "be one of the common features" that unite the two countries.
Since the establishment of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) league in 1980, 21 percent of all foreign players are Dominican nationals or have Dominican origins.
A total of 79 of the 382 international KBO leaguers have come from the Dominican Republic until 2019.
In 2020, Mel Rojas Jr., a Dominican American, who was then a KT Wiz outfielder, was named the league's MVP.
"Bringing up this fact helps people understand the impact of Dominican baseball in Korea," the envoy said.
The other cultural link is bachata, one of the two Dominican rhythms.
"Bachata is taking over Korea. More than 25 academies have elevated the art to the level of ballroom dancing. Just this week we sponsored at the embassy the first-ever online bachata class and 70 persons participated. The success means we will do this every month," concluded the ambassador.