Koreans eye Thailand to cut China risk

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A man walks near a closed Lotte store in Beijing. South Korea’s Lotte Group plans to sell some of its Chinese stores because of crippling measures imposed by Beijing over a US missile defence system. AFP

South Korean companies are keen to invest in Thailand, particularly the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), and making the country their production hub for the Asean and Asian regions, according to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra).

Kotra deputy director-general Kim Nam-Wook said many South Korean companies are keen to move out of China to get away from the risks presented by the intensifying geographical disputes with neighbouring North Korea, and Thailand offers the best choice for relocation because of its investment incentives and full government support.

“Many Korean investors used to focus on China because of its large market size of more than 1 billion consumers. However, things have changed. The intensifying geopolitical tension is making us think about diversifying risks by moving our production bases,” said Mr Kim.

He said Korean investors as well as Kotra, a state-funded trade and investment promotion organisation, are interested in Thailand to be another production hub and also a gateway to Asean, which has a population of more than 600 million.

Kotra held a seminar yesterday attended by about 100 companies from South Korea, India, Europe and other Asean member countries, seeking to create business matching and deals that would lead to further investment in Thailand, particularly in the EEC zone.

The EEC is the government’s flagship initiative to promote new investment in high-tech industries with strong government support, particularly in infrastructure and investment incentives. The EEC spans more than 30,000 rai across the provinces of Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao.

The EEC is designed to accommodate the new S-curve segment and 10 targeted industries: next-generation cars; smart electronics; affluent, medical and wellness tourism; agriculture and biotechnology; food; robotics for industry; logistics and aviation; biofuels and biochemical; digital; and medical services.

Mr Kim said Korean investors who are keen to invest in Thailand are mostly in auto parts and electronic parts sectors.

“We are interested in Thailand because it is the Detroit of Asia so it is quite easy to create a supply chain here to produce and export to other Asean countries,” he said.

South Korea ranked the eighth-biggest foreign investor in Thailand with total investment value via investment applications to the Board of Investment worth 8.9 billion baht in 2016.

There are some 300 South Korean companies in Thailand and the number is expected to double over the next few years.

Mr Kim said other Thai industries Korean investors are interested in are automobiles and auto parts, manufacturing, cosmetics and beauty and consumer products. Investors are also interested in India because of its huge population, he said.

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