Qatar and South Korea signed Wednesday an agreement on mutual waiver of entry visa requirements, a move that will take the friendly bilateral relations between the two countries yet to a greater level, South Korean ambassador Lee Joon-ho has announced.
The agreement was signed by Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs HE Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin during the former’s visit to Seoul Wednesday.
“The meeting, taking place in four years since minister Mohamed visited Korea in August 2018, will mark a meaningful milestone for our solid bilateral relations,” the envoy told a press briefing at the embassy in Qatar. Joon-ho said the new visa waiver is a legally binding agreement, which will take effect 30 days after its signing. It aims to ensure visa-free entry and short stays of nationals of the two nations for up to 90 days.
The envoy expressed confidence that this new accord will increase the level of people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.
“Indeed, as World Cup is getting closer, a lot of Korean football fans are showing greater interest in Qatar, and it will make it more convenient for Korean nationals who want to visit and explore Qatar before, during, and after the World Cup.
“And it will facilitate Qatari citizen’s travel to Korea not only for business but also for tourism as there is the great enthusiasm in Qatar towards Korean cultural contents, especially K-pop and K-dramas,” Joon-ho added. “I believe that our enduring partnership, shared values, and vibrant people-to-people ties will ensure our friendship remains strong in the years to come.”
The envoy said Qatari visitors will only be required to obtain a Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation (K-ETA) before travel by providing personal and travel-related information through the K-ETA website (or mobile app) in advance. Around 1,800 to 2,000 Qatari tourists visit South Korea annually before the number of visitors dropped due to the spread of Covid-19 in the last two years, according to Joon-ho. However, the number has increased by twofold this year when the (previous) visa-free entry scheme for Qatari citizens resumed in April. The envoy pointed out that the new visa waiver agreement, which the two foreign ministers signed in Seoul Wednesday, is different from the previous visa-free entry scheme (which has been based on reciprocity).
He said more than 13,000 Koreans visited Qatar in 2019 before Covid-19 broke out and during the pandemic, around 4,000 to 5,000 Koreans visited Qatar. The envoy pointed out that they expect the number of Korean visitors will sharply increase as Covid-19 situations continue to improve especially when the visa waiver agreement enters into force. On the importance of the agreement to the World Cup fans from South Korea, Joon-ho said: “As the Qatar World Cup is getting closer, our football fans are also taking an even deeper interest in Qatar. We expect at least thousands of Korean fans to visit Qatar during the tournament.”
On the country’s preparations for the prestigious tournament, he said: “Qatar has done an exceptional and impressive job in organising this first-ever World Cup in the region. It has dealt very well with all the aspects of the tournament such as public transportation, world-class stadiums, accommodations, and even environment protection as the first carbon-neutral World Cup.
“I am very pleased that Korean companies have contributed to Qatar’s preparations for the World Cup by joining various infrastructure projects such as highway, Doha Metro, Al Thumama stadium and the iconic Lusail Plaza Tower.
“And Qatar already showcased to the world its ability to hold major international football events successfully even amid Covid-19 such as the AFC Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. I am sure that Qatar will host an unforgettable World Cup this year.”
On enhancing trade and economic co-operation, Joon-ho said Qatar and South Korea have developed mutually beneficial economic partnership since establishing diplomatic ties in 1974. He said Qatar has been the largest supplier of LNG to South Korea and consistently supplying LNG for the last 20 years while South Korea is one of the major trading partners of Qatar as well.
The envoy stressed that the sheer volume of trade between the two countries, which recorded $12bn in 2021, shows how strong the economic relations are and the visa waiver agreement will further strengthen this. About the prominent Qatari investment sectors in South Korea, Joon-ho said: “Based on such long-standing economic relations, our two countries are working closely together to diversify fields of our co-operation into new areas such as smart city, information and communication technology (ICT), agriculture, healthcare, education, and climate change.
“For example, Qatari investors can find attractive investment opportunities in areas related to green energy and ICT in Korea. With new economic co-operation opportunities, I hope to see more Qatari investments in Korea and vice versa in the near future”.
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