The Group of 20 summit in Seoul last month allowed South Korea to prove to the world its status as a developed and advanced nation.

After the 1988 Olympics and the 2002 Fifa World Cup, the G20 meeting represented the next stage in the rapid progress of this country.

After the sharp shock of 2008, Korea has rebounded with impressive growth. The shipyard order books are full, there are not enough carriers to ship new cars out of the country and the G20 has acted as one giant showcase for the latest in Korean gadgetry.

The bombardment of an island off the coast has reminded the world of the ongoing dispute between South Korea and its northern neighbour.

While the barrage is not to be taken lightly, the reality is that it is unlikely to affect South Korea's economy. Yes markets have blipped, but they will recover and South Korea will steam on to an expected 6.5 per cent annual growth for 2010.

While headlines around the world have used phrases such as "extreme danger" and "regional meltdown", we need to maintain some perspective.

In South Korea, business goes on unabated. The streets of Seoul are as busy and upbeat as ever, and the city continues to modernise and increasingly present itself as a leading edge 21st century metropolis.

This is not the time to turn away from South Korea, it is the time to be here and be in business. Opportunity exists here if New Zealanders make a more considered view of risk than do our competitors, if they make a better effort to better understand what drives Korean customers and businesses, and if they take note of how Koreans view New Zealand.

Research commissioned by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise earlier this year suggests that while Koreans admire our country branding, they are less knowledgeable about our products and even less enthusiastic about our business performance.

There is a sense of goodwill toward New Zealand and Koreans trust us, but there is a view that New Zealand has stagnated in the last decade.

The business people interviewed as part of NZTE's research all felt that New Zealand has to lift its game. Our lifestyle-based priorities contrast with Korea's "palli palli" [quickly quickly] culture, and we are seen to lack the tenacity to survive in this market.

A common complaint is the inability to receive a rapid response from a New Zealand business partner. The reality is that Korean businesses have greater choice and easier business options to choose from.

These perceptions are supported by trade statistics. While Korea's economy has bounded along at four to 5 per cent growth, New Zealand's exports to Korea have flatlined. Of the top 50 countries exporting to Korea, only Ireland and Hong Kong have fared worse than us since 2002.

Our major competitors have done strikingly better. Australia's exports to Korea have doubled; Chile's have quadrupled.

Chile has had a free trade agreement with Korea since 2004 and has benefited from a progressive lowering of tariff barriers and an implicit endorsement from the Korean Government as a worthy business partner.

This has encouraged Korean consumers to try Chilean products, and one consequence has been an explosion of Chilean wine to the point where it now outsells French wine, in volume at least.

Chile has probably benefited from a first-mover advantage and while subsequent FTAs will have a halo effect, the benefit is likely to be less.

A Korea-New Zealand FTA, currently in negotiation, will be an important foundation for our future competitiveness in the market.

But we need to remember though that an FTA on its own will not secure market share or consumer minds. Just as importantly as before, businesses will need to put in the hard yards to overcome the perception issues we face.

New Zealand businesses already here are adopting different approaches to the Korean market, and those that are successful have all adapted to the market in one way or another.

They have made the effort to listen to what their Korean customers want, have people who can understand and mediate Korean business relationships; and proactively manage their brand.

They have also made the effort to better understand and appreciate some of the underlying features of the Korean business environment and culture.

There are many positive aspects to South Korea's relationship with New Zealand. Older Koreans remember that we spilled blood to defend their country, while a new generation is becoming entranced by travel and education opportunities in New Zealand. This bodes well for New Zealand.

New Zealand businesses need to step up to the mark and realise that Korea is now on the world stage, and open for business. We may never make the G20, but neither will Chile.

* Graeme Solloway is New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's Trade Commissioner for South Korea, based in Seoul.