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O’Malley, South Korean president discuss Md. trade

Gov. Martin O’Malley went off script Wednesday, visiting the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during his 10-day trade mission to Asia due to wrap up Saturday.

O’Malley met Lee at his official residence, Cheong Wa Dae, or the “Blue House”, and the two discussed ways to increase trade and investment between South Korea and Maryland, according to the governor’s office. O’Malley called the meeting “a highlight of our Asia mission” in a written statment.

“Given his long and successful business career — including 27 years with Hyundai — President Lee fully understands the importance of reaching across borders to build relationships and form partnerships to open markets to international trade and benefit the global economy,” O’Malley said. “We look forward to an ongoing relationship and further strengthening Maryland’s ties to South Korea.”

The meeting was not listed on the governor’s itinerary released last week. Secretary of State John P. McDonough and Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson were also in the meeting.

South Korea is already the state’s sixth-largest export market, accounting for $481 million in exports in 2010, according to the Department of Business and Economic Development. The state imported $525 million from South Korea that year, with automobiles, machinery and electrical equipment the top products.

O’Malley is in the country for three days, and is scheduled to meet with senior Samsung leaders tomorrow. He is set to tour the company’s biologics division, which was formed earlier this year in partnership with a North Carolina company to help the company expands in to biopharmaceuticals.

Beefing up the state’s biotech industry has been a focus for Maryland governor’s traveling, whether the trips have taken them to Asia, Europe or the Middle East.

O’Malley’s trade mission also includes stops in China and Vietnam. He traveled first to Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing China, and will stop in Hanoi on Friday. The state has announced $45 million in business deals closed during the trip already, and is expected to release details on others later this week.

The Korean leg of the governor’s trip has been the source of some controversy. Lobbying firm Alexander & Cleaver touted the access to O’Malley one of its lobbyists would have on the trip. The governor’s office was not amused.