Friday, July 26, 2013

Korean investments in India: Growing, but at a slow pace

First published in The Hindu Business Line, July 25th
Large Korean brands are household names in India and their strength has grown in the years since they first started operations.

However, the fact remains that Korean FDI inflows have been growing at a very tardy pace, and companies seem to be keener to explore other emerging markets.

Many Korean companies were the first movers as FDI investors in India, following the spate of reforms and liberalization since 1991. They started to invest by forming joint ventures with local companies or established wholly owned subsidiaries, predominantly in automobiles and white consumer goods. With clever business models, they managed to make deep inroads into the Indian market, in a relatively short period of time, led by technology giants Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, and Hyundai Motor.

More recently Lotte Group, Doosan Heavy Industries and POSCO have become familiar names in the Indian business lexicon. As of today, there are officially 603 large and small Korean firms, which have offices in India.

It may come as a surprise, therefore, that India figures quite low on the list of favored investment destinations for Korean companies, with a rank of 16 worldwide.

According to the latest foreign investment statistics published by Exim Bank Korea, till end-2012, total Korean investments in India amounted to just 1.25 per cent ($2.67 billion of their $215 billion overseas investments).

In comparison, across the Asian countries, the Korean companies have pumped in $39.67 billion in China, $14.18 billion in Hong Kong, $8.38 billion in Vietnam, $6.73 billion in Indonesia and $4.65 billion in Singapore, $3.95 billion in Malaysia and $3.81 billion in Japan.

Looking at it from India’s point of view, the latest available analysis of FDI equity inflows from April-2000 to end-February 2013, by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion shows that Korea ranks 13th with $1.22 billion, which represents 0.64 per cent of the cumulative inflows received.

The top sectors that attracted FDI equity inflows from Korea are: metallurgical industries (26 per cent); prime mover- other than electrical generators (10 per cent); machine tools (8 per cent); automobile industry (7 per cent); and electronics (6 per cent).

Among the companies that invested, POSCO tops the list for this period, followed by Hyundai Mobis, Mirae Asset Investment Management, Samsung Electronics, Doosan Heavy Industries, Korea Western Power, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Lotte Confectionery and Lanco Intratech.


In the next few years, more investments are likely in the exclusive Korean Industrial Zone that will soon come up in the Neemrana region of Alwar district in Rajasthan. The 250-acre zone is seeking to attract Korean entrepreneurs and facilitate technology transfer between the nations.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Rajasthan Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (RIICO) and the South Korean Trade Promotion Agency (KOTRA) in March. But it remains to be seen how the project progresses before drawing any conclusions.

As can be seen from the table, Korean investment has indeed perked up during the last two years, but is still way below potential. The India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), in force since January 2010, has not really been effective in attracting large-scale investments into the country, as desired.

Some experts argue that it is too early to draw any conclusion on the effect of CEPA in attracting Korean investments, and it could also be because of the global economic downturn and problems in the European Union.

As noted by Dr Cho Choong-jae, Head of India-South Asia Division at Korea Institute of International Economic Policy, for the most part, Korean companies are satisfied with their growth in India, and positive concerning prospects for growth in the next three years.


A survey conducted by his institute among Korean companies based in India showed that entering and gaining access to India’s domestic market constituted the biggest motivation for Korean manufacturing companies in India. Particularly since wages were lower than those in China, but comparable to Indonesia and only slightly higher than in Vietnam.

Entry into India’s domestic market was also the prime-motivating factor in investments by Korean non-manufacturing firms, in addition to expanding their presence in the subcontinent.

“It is, however, a fact that foreign firms continue to face many non-tariff barriers in India and unless the situation improves, there will be very little motivation for other companies to seriously consider India as an investment location.”


As he points out, India’s FDI policy has been one of gradual opening up. Much of the increase in FDI inflows is in the services sector. However, FDI inflows from Korea have been mostly in the manufacturing industries.

The main irritants are, of course, poor infrastructure, corruption, labour management, taxes, administrative services, fluctuating government policies at the central and state levels, political intervention, customs and clearance procedures.

In the words of Dr Lee Soon-chul, Assistant Professor at Busan University of Foreign Studies, “many recent policies of the Indian government have confused foreign investors.”

He was referring to the delay in opening of the retail sector, telecom policy flip-flops and retroactive taxation of foreign firms that have invested in India.

Such uncertain policies have made investors opt for divestment or to delay their planned investment.

There have been many instances of Korean companies sending a few executives to India for a couple of months to scout for opportunities, but then giving up in despair because of the red tape and corruption.

A senior executive of a large construction conglomerate in Korea, who did not want to be named, confessed that he spent six months in New Delhi last year, along with a few colleagues, trying to negotiate government infrastructure projects with an Indian partner. However, the large scale corruption and lack of transparency made them shift focus to Vietnam.

“The licensing and inspection costs are very high. Additionally, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, the lack of government accountability and a congested judicial system where cases can linger on for several years, made my company change its mind. The Indian government does not walk the talk.”

There are also other barriers such as problems of land acquisition at the stage of investment implementation, due to the opposition of local residents. Many Korean companies realized that if a big company like POSCO can face difficulties, despite government assurances, it would be even tougher for smaller companies to survive in India.

Dr Choi Ho-sang, Research Fellow at the Korea Center for International Finance, in a recent article, observes that the reason FDI in India has been sluggish is that foreign capital regulations have not been relaxed sufficiently.

“The second UPA administration, which came into power in 2009, set the relaxation of regulations as one of its major policies in order to attract foreign capital. Foreign investors welcomed the new policy with great expectations, but when foreign capital regulations were not relaxed as had been promised, the expected increase in foreign investment did not happen either.”

“Moreover, the protectionist labour laws, complex tax system, and inadequate infrastructure such as roads and electricity, all render India a less attractive investment outlet compared with other Asian countries,” Dr Choi said.

Unlike most other countries, the Indian government does not provide attractive incentives to foreign companies entering the market.

For instance, the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), aimed at the development of futuristic industrial cities in India, can compete with the best manufacturing and investment destinations in the world and is expected to attract huge FDI inflows. Ordinarily, Korean investors would jump at such an opportunity. However, no special incentives are being offered to foreign investors under this initiative.

The implementation of genuine and operational policies of opening up to foreign capital is the key to sustaining investment growth.


India’s booming knowledge-based service industry complements the hardware and manufacturing-based economic structure of Korea. India’s capabilities in pharmaceutical industry, IT software and auto components usefully complement Korean competence in heavy engineering, automobiles, machinery and electronic hardware. There is also potential for bilateral cooperation in India’s CDMA service, high speed Internet and e-governance.

As noted by Indian Ambassador to South Korea Vishnu Prakash, “the synergies inherent in the complementarities of the two economies can be harnessed for mutual benefit by the business and industry of the two countries. The expansion in trade and investment flows would create demand for related infrastructure and other supporting socio-economic services.”

Opportunities for expanding business cooperation exist in engineering, design engineering and construction services. Then there is the power sector and India’s plans to enhance civil nuclear power generation capacity.

The economies of India and Korea are highly complementary in terms of factor endowment, capabilities and specialization. If the investment barriers are effectively tackled, India’s cost-effective human resources may complement growing labour scarcity and rising wages in Korea, and a number of companies may consider India as an ideal destination for their relocation or global sourcing.