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Foreign investors should not be taken for granted
16 Jul 2012 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
ANY COUNTRY trying to attract foreign investment should not neglect those investors who have already arrived and are making a contribution to the national economy, because the competition for investment is tougher than ever. So argues Seok Soong Seo, the ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Slovakia.
“Please, do not take it for granted that foreign investors will always be here,” says the Korean ambassador, who among other things has a detailed knowledge of Slovakia’s tourism offering – especially its spas, their characteristics, water temperature and even how much they cost to visit. He believes there are spas in Slovakia that could attract and satisfy foreign tourists.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The city of Yeosu is hosting the World Expo between May 12 and August 12, although Slovakia is not participating in it. What benefits does hosting such an event bring to your country?
TSS: The Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Korea became effective in July 2011. How has this agreement affected bilateral trade between Korea and Slovakia so far?
As for Korea, due to the crisis exports to the EU have dropped overall by 3.6 percent but exports of preferential goods have increased by 16.5 percent. Nevertheless, there is a significant amount of investment flowing to Korea, while FDI from the EU to Korea has increased by 60 percent for three consecutive quarters since July last year.
TSS: How would you assess current economic relations between the Republic of Korea and Slovakia, also with respect to the economic crisis and the current situation in the eurozone? Have you registered any changes, either positive or negative, within the bilateral trade relationship?
So we view Slovakia as part of the European market. For example, if we take the carmaker Kia, when geared up to its maximum capacity, then it produces a good-looking car every single minute, but only 5 percent of that production goes to the Slovak market. Samsung produces a 3D hi-tech television every 30 seconds, but less than 3 percent of this production is consumed in Slovakia. We have to look at the Slovak market in a much wider context. Of course the European crisis has negatively impacted Korean investments, especially in the segment of electronics where our investors have faced hardship and difficult times. Though the Olympics are starting in London and we are expecting some increasing numbers, we are still in the doldrums, trying to make it through difficult times.
TSS: Slovakia is becoming one of the favourite health tourism destinations in the region. You have visited almost all the spas in Slovakia. How do you assess the country’s health tourism potential? Would Koreans find this area of tourism interesting?
TSS: How would you assess the current interest of Korean investors in Slovakia? Do you believe that the investment potential has been fully tapped?
But back to your question; yes, there is an immense potential. But perhaps before attracting other new investors the country should make sure that they are treating well those investors who are already here because the international competition is rather sharp. Yes, you of course have brand-new greenfield investments but then a very important wisdom I have acquired from my home country is that a large portion of investments are done by the guys who are already in your homeland and this is why it is important to treat them well. Slovakia already has strong competitors: Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia or Slovenia. Even non-EU member countries are sending out some strong signals. Please do not take it for granted that foreign investors will always be here.
In fact, 15 percent of Slovakia’s GDP is created by Korean companies which employ around 30,000 Slovaks. Of course, if you look at the map of Slovakia these investments are concentrated around Žilina, Galanta and Voderady. Still, central Slovakia, Banská Bystrica, Prešov and Košice regions are still an untapped potential, while sectors such as chemical production, research and development, and tourism seem to be promising.
TSS: Is the language barrier significant for Koreans living in Slovakia?
In September, Comenius University opens regular undergraduate and graduate courses in Korean studies, which is a significant step to teaching not only the Korean language, but also Korean culture and our way of thinking and philosophy.
TSS: Representatives of Samsung Electronics Slovakia and the Slovak University of Technology and Žilina University in late June signed a cooperation agreement in science, research and education. What does this agreement means for the development of bilateral relations?
TSS: Not only Korean investments but also culture has become more visible in Slovakia. Your embassy holds cooking competitions and visitors to Bratislava Castle were able to attend a traditional Korean wedding as part of the Korean National Day. How do Slovaks respond to Korean culture?
There are already strong bridges between Slovaks and the Korean community here. We do not want to live here as strangers or even as guests who come and go: this is our second home and we do want to contribute in many ways. Since I will end my diplomatic mission here this year, it will be very difficult to say goodbye to this beautiful country and its lovely people.More from Foreigners in Slovakia
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