[INTERVIEW] Philippines provides ideal business environment for Korean investors: envoy

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-02-20 15:09 Updated : 2018-02-23 17:18
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Ambassador Raul S. Hernandez [Photograph and video by Park Sae-jin]

SEOUL, Feb. 20 (Aju News) -- For South Korean firms seeking to invest abroad, the Philippines will provide an ideal business environment because of a geopolitical advantage, a young and productive labor pool, a rapidly-prospering market and an infrastructure boom, its top envoy in Seoul said.

"These advantages and many more continue to attract foreign companies, including Korean companies in other locations, to consider investments in the Philippines," Ambassador Raul S. Hernandez said in an email interview with Aju Business Daily.

The Philippines wants South Korean firms to invest in manufacturing, shipbuilding, banking and finance, animation and game development, food processing, tourism facilities and energy and renewable energy, he said.

Hernandez said President Rodrigo Duterte has envisioned the reduction of poverty through reforms that include the acceleration of infrastructure and the development of industries that will yield robust growth. "Infrastructure is among the top priorities of this Administration."

"This focus on infrastructure is called the 'Build, Build, Build' program, and we are encouraging Korean companies to consider more investment in this program," the envoy said, adding 12 Korean companies including large infrastructure and utility companies like K-water and Korea Electric Power Corp., visited the Philippines in January to look at what projects they can participate in.

"A promising area for expanded bilateral cooperation would be in the area of infrastructure. The Philippines is rolling out many infrastructure projects within the short to medium term, and Korean engineering and construction companies can provide much needed technical expertise and also capital towards profitably in undertaking these projects," said Hernandez.

The Philippines can be a manufacturing and assembly hub for Korean electric vehicle manufacturers to supply the entire ASEAN market, he said, referring to a memorandum of agreement signed by the two countries in November last year for cooperation on electric vehicles. "The timing is perfect to get into this new sector while it is still not crowded and dominated by other countries like Japan or China."

To meet growing logistics support requirements for its coastal and off-shore defense, the Philippines has expanded military cooperation with South Korea. In 2016, South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries secured a $325 million order to build two 2,600-ton frigates for the Philippines by 2020. The Philippines also aims to buy more light jet fighters from South Korea to guard its exclusive economic zone following the delivery of 12 FA-50s.

Hernandez predicted that defense ties would be expanded between Manila and Seoul under their military cooperation agreements. "I see not only the continuance but also the stepping up of our defense cooperation particularly on capability build-up, capacity enhancement and logistics support," he said, adding the Philippines would buy more South Korean military equipment.

The Philippines can offer "complementary manufacturing options", he said as many South Korean firms based in China seek the relocation of factories to Southeast Asian countries. "We offer several advantages which make us competitive in certain sectors and products."

Ambassador Raul S. Hernandez [Photograph by Park Sae-jin]

The envoy said the Philippines has a large rapidly-prospering market of 100 million people, a very large productive labor pool and abundant and clean tropical agricultural and marine resources. "We are in the middle of an infrastructure and economic boom."

In line with South Korean President Moon Jae-in's policy of expanding ties with Southeast Asian nations, the Philippines foresees that bilateral relations will continue to expand in the areas of defense, trade, investments, agriculture, science and technology and socio-cultural exchanges, the envoy said.

The Philippines has maintained its firm status as one of South Korea's top tourist destinations, attracting more than one million Korean tourists annually. Last year, over 1.45 million Korean tourists visited the Southeast Asian country.

Hernandez outlined various programs and events to attract more Korean visitors, saying the Philippines would exert efforts to ensure the safety of tourists and about 100,000 Korean residents.

If a summit takes place between Moon and Duterte, the agenda is expected to include expanding defense and security relations, trade and investment, and tourism and cultural exchanges as well as the well-being of more than 26,000 Filipinos living in South Korea, he said.

There are over 10,000 Filipino marriage immigrants in South Korea, but those who have already acquired Korean citizenship through marriage were not included, Hernandez said, adding they have contributed greatly to diversification, global competitiveness, and economic and social advancement.

However, "a significant number" still faces challenges on integrating successfully into the Korean society due to the differences in culture, customs, and practices, he said. "I think it would be ideal if both parties, not just the foreign spouse, get pre-marriage counseling or education on each other's culture - thereby fostering respect and building a greater understanding of each other's cultural background."

Among other things, the envoy called for measures to address identity confusion and racism that children from multicultural families experience in South Korea. "While South Korea is gradually becoming a heterogeneous society, it cannot be denied that there is still much work to be done in terms of promoting inter-cultural respect in the country."

Young people here should learn about the concept of diversity and inclusiveness and know, "by precept and example, that the definition of multiculturalism is not limited to a diverse population but is underpinned by inter-cultural respect and tolerance for traditional practices and values".

Thanks to K-pop and K-dramas which are getting more airtime on radio and TV and the propagation of Korean cosmetics and food, Hallyu (Korean culture wave) is popular in the Philippines, Hernandez said, suggesting the greater presence of Hallyu would promote understanding and appreciation of each other's culture and create a more meaningful and mutually beneficial interaction.

"As Hallyu reaches a high watermark in popularity in the country, it is expected that this phenomenon will stimulate greater interactions between Filipinos and Koreans," he said. "It is my hope also that the Philippines can realize the potential of taking cultural diplomacy to a higher level and replicate the same level of success with our local television dramas as well our original Filipino music."

This interview was arranged by Aju Business Daily writer Moon Eun-joo.