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EXCLUSIVE: Few American companies reap Korea show benefits

GYEONGGI PROVINCE, South Korea - There aren't many American companies at the Korea International Boat Show, but many of those here say there are opportunities to be had.

Ernie Ellis Jr., president of Sea-Fire Marine, said this was his second year at the show, and he sees improvement in the event, now in its third year. While he hasn't seen much in the way of new marina development, Ellis said government support for the recreational marine industry is positive.

"I think they're going to be successful," he said, adding his company has been doing business in South Korea for more than a year. "We're in on the ground floor."

The infrastructure, however, is key, Ellis said. "Until marinas are in place there's not going to be a lot of leisure activity," he said. The government has committed to building 43 marinas around the country, in addition to private firms that are also developing marinas.

Gary Abernathy, president and CEO of Praktek, which produces inflatable fenders for yachts under the Aere name, said he was disappointed there weren't more Americans at the show and wished U.S. trade associations had let more people know about the opportunity.

"We should have as much representation as the Australians," he said. "The Russians have more people here than we do."

Abernathy, who came to the show as a buyer, said South Korea is a growing market with a population that has an increasing amount of disposable income. And while the recreational marine market here is still young, there are long-range plans for significant growth.

"There are opportunities here," he said.

Brunswick's Su Lin Cheah, director of recreational marine in Asia for the company's Asia Pacific Group, said her company sells Sea Ray, Boston Whaler, Bayliner, Trophy and Meridian boats in South Korea, and many of those were on display at the show. It also sells its Mercury engines in the region.

"Korea is of interest to us because of the proactiveness of the local government," she said. "You need that involvement."

The Korea International Boat Show runs through Sunday. Look for a comprehensive report on the show in the August issue of Soundings Trade Only.

Beth Rosenberg

b.rosenberg@tradeonlytoday.com

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