Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interview: Mr. Kim Byung-soo, Director General, Foreign Investor Support Office, InvestKorea

Invest KOREA (IK), Korea's national investment promotion agency, was established within the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) with the sole purpose of supporting the entry and successful establishment of foreign business into Korea. With assistance extending to comprehensive post-establishment services, IK enables foreign corporations to maximize the benefits of the Korean investment environment to ensure their rapid settlement in Korea. The agency is committed to providing unmatched, comprehensive one-stop service that allows foreign investors to join many of the world's most successful corporations who have selected Korea as an investment destination and been rewarded by high returns on the investment. The new head of the Foreign Investor Support Office in the investment promotion agency, Invest Korea, is not only experienced and proactive, but is also full of fresh ideas to help investors. As noted by Mr. Kim Byung-soo, Director General, Foreign Investor Support Office, the agency attracts foreign investment by identifying potential foreign investors, supporting investment projects, providing aftercare services for foreign investors, and building a cooperative network with related organizations. Prior to heading the office in January this year, Mr. Kim was with the Ministry of Knowledge Economy as Director, Foreign Investment Policy Division. This Division comes under the authority of the Vice Minister for Trade & Energy in MKE. It is more like a back office of foreign investment related issues. “My main role in MKE was to provide all the logistics support for needed for the implementation of the Foreign Investment Promotion Act. This Act aims to encourage foreign investment through deregulation by providing tax incentives and financial assistance; deals with foreign investment and technology, and introduces a reporting system with regard to foreign investment in Korea. However, now my main job is to implement these very same policies,” he said. In a sense, this gives him the opportunity to deal directly with foreign investors and know their problems. While trying to solve the problems faced by investors, he has to sometimes deal with uncooperative officials in various ministries and local governments. But that has not stopped him from giving his 100 percent to the job, even at the risk of “begging” lower rank officials to help foreign investors. “For me, FDI does not refer to Foreign Direct Investment. Rather, it is Frontier Development Initiative and going even further, Friendship Development Intiative. It is very important to develop friendly relations with investors inorder to understand their problems to solve them,” he said. Since relocating to Invest Korea, he has made it a point to visit the various industrial sites which have a high proportion of foreign investors, to meet with them and understand the difficulties that they may be facing. He has also been going on invesment promotion trips abroad to meet potential investors. “One has to be proactive and meet foreign investors to anticipate what problems they may face. I do not like to wait for them to come to me with their problems, but want to solve them before they become big issues.” Recalling some of the notable cases that he has encountered so far, he said that Scania Korea and Edwards Korea faced some ‘unsolvable’ difficulties. But, after persisting with the various government departments, he was able to make a breakthrough. Speaking on the main objectives of the Foreign Investor Support Office, he said the investment promotion and support capability has been considerably strengthened by the introduction of the Project Manager (PM) system, under which a PM is designated for each investment project to offer customized support throughout its entirety, from providing investment consultation and obtaining licenses and approvals to actually launching a business. “In addition to the project managers, we have a pool of experts in such fields as finance, tax, law, securities, accounting, and construction to smooth the foreign investment process and ensure that investors claim the full range of benefits available,” he said. The office provides support throughout each stage of the investment project, from international promotion of Korea's image and identification of target companies to delivery of customized assistance ranging from research and planning to implementation. The agency also provides substantive feedback from investors to policymakers in order to constantly improve the investment environment. “The range of services we offer has been significantly enhanced following the opening of the Investor Consulting Center (ICC) within Invest Korea Plaza. The center provides information and assistance on a variety of matters relating to foreign investment and daily living in Korea, from selecting plant sites and forging alliances with Korean partners, to education and accommodation.” Additional business-related assistance are provided by officials seconded from the Ministry of Justice, the National Tax Service, the Korea Customs Office, and the courts of law, all of whom offer a broad range of administrative support and respond to complaints made by foreign investors. “I prefer to call this center as Inter Cultural Communication since we provide one-stop consulting services free of charge to foreigners who wish to invest in Korea.The services include pre-investment market research, administrative support, and settlement assistance, for the successful establishment of business in Korea.” The center is staffed by consultants, comprising private-sector experts recruited from key investment-related fields, and civil servants seconded from other major government agencies and ministries, in order to provide systematic and professional consultation services. At the ICC, investors can receive one-on-one consultations on taxation, accounting, and law in the beginning of an investment, and receive administrative assistance directly from government officials for visa application, certification of the completion of investment in kind, and business registration. The center also provides personalized life settlement consultations and a one-day, on-site assistance to help investors settle successfully in Korea. “My main role is to help the foreign investors and I am satisfied only if they do not face any problems while doing business in Korea,” he said.