NK Projects: Chance or Risk for Businesses?

Korea Times
Jane Han

Economic cooperation topping the agenda for the inter-Korean summit, plus the van of corporate decision makers traveling to the North together, begs the question: Will the trip bear fruit for two-way business?

Chung Mong-koo of Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, Chey Tae-won of SK Group, Koo Bon-moo of LG Group and Hyun Jeong-eun of Hyundai Group, who are among the 18 CEOs accompanying President Roh Moo-hyun as part of a special entourage, showed signs of hope as they departed for Pyongyang on their three-day trip that started Tuesday.

“I hope the talks will go well and further the ongoing business between the two Koreas, while opening doors to new areas as well,” said Hyundai Chairwoman Hyun.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung was also optimistic as he detailed some of the items, including North Korea’s expansion of social overhead capital (SOC) and construction of railroads, which may be discussed among leaders of both sides.

“As there has been much progress in the peninsula over the past seven years, we’re hoping that this experience will set a milestone in history,” he said in a television interview.

These hopes may be translated into reality through at least two scheduled business leader meetings during the summit period.

“The definition of economic cooperation between the two Koreas, so far, has implied one-way support from Seoul,” said Koh Il-dong, a research fellow of the Korea Development Institute (KDI). “But now, it’s time to break free of that old understanding and move toward real cooperation.”

And “real cooperation” is what the North bound corporate executives are looking to, as they hint some of the possibilities they have in mind.

Among the top three business topics expected for discussion _ natural resource developments, roadway and railway distribution system expansions and dockyard construction _ Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group is said to be interested in building railroad cars through its shipping affiliate Glovis, and also measure the feasibility of SOC businesses, while POSCO showed interest in forestation.

Although company officials said forestation is just a possibility, as the steel maker has shown its interest in securing carbon credit overseas, industry insiders say the opportunity will be advantageous for POSCO if cooperation comes through.

And as speculations rose that SK Group may be considering communication and energy projects in the North, company officials said plans are open for review if the right offer is made.

LG and Samsung, which are said to be mulling over their specialty areas of electronics, seem to be in the same scouting stages as others.

“Each company needs to be given the time and circumstances to carry out through market research,” said Dong Yong-sueng, a research fellow of the Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI), implying that those are some of the accommodations that must be worked out if business is to happen.

Contrary to the high hopes, economic experts pointed out that some corporations would be wary of cooperating with North Korea, as it may ruin their reputation in the global market.


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