By Jonathan Hicap
SEOUL, South Korea – Government and business leaders gathered here for the opening of the 6th ASEAN Connectivity Forum on Nov. 27 that aims to entice Korean businessmen to invest in countries in the region including the Philippines.
Gracing the opening of the event co-organized by the ASEAN-Korea Centre (AKC) and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) were AKC secretary general and former ambassador to the Philippines Lee Hyuk, KCCI executive vice chairman Kim Jun-dong, Philippine Trade and Industry Undersecrtary Rowel Barba, deputy minister for political affairs Yoon Soon-gu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, deputy assistant secretary Mark Knapper of the US Department of State and Philippine Ambassador to Korea Raul Hernandez.
In his opening remarks, Lee said the ASEAN region has 640 million people with a gross domestic product of US$2.8 trillion, trade volume of $2.6 trillion and average annual grown of 5 percent.
“ASEAN is currently the world’s fifth-largest economic power playing a key role in the global economy. ASEAN is a special and valued friend to Korea. The region is Korea’s second largest trading partner with two-way trade volume reaching nearly $150 million last year. It is also Korea’s third largest investment destination with investment of $5 billion in the previous year,” he said.
He added that Korean President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy, announced in Manila last year and called for Korea’s goal to strengthen ties with ASEAN countries, “is a clear indicator of Korea’s interest to deepen its engagement with ASEAN.”
Barba, in his speech, underscored that under President Rodrigo Duterte, “physical connectivity through sustainable infrastructure has been a priority program, with public spending in the infrastructure sector targeted to reach as much as seven percent of gross domestic product.”
The budget for infrastructure projects this year under the Duterte administration, he said, is pegged at $13.67 billion to sustain its Build, Build, Build program, which currently has 75 flagship projects, with the goal of having “high impact projects rolled out to increase the economy’s productive capacity, create jobs, increase incomes, and strengthen the investment climate leading to sustained inclusive growth.”
Knapper emphasized that the US commitment to ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific regions “has never been stronger.”
“We believe that promoting connectivity is key to this commitment,” he said, adding that the US recently doubled its financing capacity for infrastructure projects in the ASEAN and Indo-Pacific regions to $60 billion.
“We are also encouraging American businesses to invest for this region,” Knapper said, citing that in the past two years, American investors had announced more than 1,500 new projects and more than $61 billion in investments across the region.
During the forum’s afternoon session, Chairperson Anna Mae Lamentillo of the Build Build Build Committee of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and lawyer Ma. Socorro Dooc of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center presented the infrastructure projects under the Duterte administration and explained how PPP works in the Philippines, respectively.
Lee told Manila Bulletin that besides the forum, the AKC helped Korean companies connect with ASEAN governments by dispatching investment missions in the region.
“Earlier this year, the mission composed of Korean private companies was dispatched to the Philippines and Myanmar. During the programs, the Korean investors took part in industrial visits, investment forum, and one-on-one business meetings,” he said.
He added that “In line with the Philippine government’s strong drive for FDI in the country’s infrastructure sector, dubbed ‘Build, Build, Build,’ we are planning to send the mission in this sector to Manila, Philippines in January next year.”
Lee said the biggest challenge facing Korean companies in engaging in the ASEAN region “is to find bankable and commercially viable projects.”
“Profitability of the projects is a key factor to get loans from the financial institutions. Furthermore, clear regulations and transparency in law enforcement are required to attract more Korean companies to do businesses in the region,” he said.
Manila Bulletin was invited by the AKC as media representative from the Philippines along with other news outlets in ASEAN.
Today (Nov. 28), the ASEAN media representatives will visit Korea’s Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy and Korean company CJ Cheiljedang.