Fillip for Korea-Lanka trade, investment relations | Sunday Observer

Fillip for Korea-Lanka trade, investment relations

25 August, 2019

Sri Lanka has not fully tapped the tourism, investment and trade potential in South Korea and there’s a promising future for the two countries to restart negotiations to improve trade and economic relations, a senior diplomat said last week.

South Korean Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Heon Lee told a group of journalists, that there are opportunities for the two countries to resume talks on investment and trade opportunities and harness tourism potential through promotional activities.

The South Korean government through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and Korea Eximbank have supported Sri Lanka to set up vocational training facilities, train youth in vocational skills, state officials in efficiency skills and provide employment opportunities for Lankans in their country over the years.

The number of South Korean tourists visiting Sri Lanka has been rapidly increasing. Last year, inbound tourists totalled around 17,000.

However, there have not been any Sri Lanka tourism promotional campaigns in South Korea in recent years. Ambassador Lee says, there are several reasons why Sri Lanka should take a new look at South Korean tourists.

“Our tourists love Sri Lankan tea and visiting Buddhist sites. They love joining tea trails.

These are niche tourism areas with high potential to attract upmarket tourists, who could contribute much to the economy of the island.”

He believes that factors such as depreciation of the rupee, relaxation of visa requirements and increased enthusiasm among his country’s people to travel abroad could be positive for Sri Lanka to attract more visitors.

The Korean Embassy also plans to bring down journalists from key media institutions on a familiarisation tour in Sri Lanka as part of a Sri Lanka tourism promotional program initiated by his office.

South Korea was also the largest foreign direct investor in Sri Lanka in the late nineties. However, due to several internal issues, and due to new openings in China (as China joined WTO in 2001), most Korean investors preferred to move into China for better investment benefits. This resulted in an investor-drain in Sri Lanka. Later, Korean investors looked at bigger opportunities in Vietnam and Cambodia, as they were closer to their country as well.

“We could still look at investment opportunities in Sri Lanka as the island is developing new trade zones. But, the success of any discussion would depend on the benefits offered to the investors,” the Ambassador said.

South Korea has offered an annual employment quota of 5,000 to Sri Lanka. However, they receive only about 3,200-4,000 employees a year. At present, there are 16,000 Lankan employees working in Korea in lucrative jobs. Overstaying of visas by workers has been an issue; but tough action is being taken against such people by the government, Kim Won Seok, the representative of HRD Korea, (EPS Centre in Sri Lanka) said.