KOTRA Express sits down with John M. Kerry, Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea,
to hear more about his plans to promote Korea’s investment environment to U.S. investors and his aspirations for Korea-U.S. relations.
John M. Kerry was primarily educated in Massachusetts, receiving his bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross and master’s degrees from Boston College and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Based on his career experience as former senator for the state of Maine, and former energy director for Maine as well as all of the New England state governors, Kerry was newly appointed as an honorary ambassador of foreign investment promotion for Korea to raise awareness of Korea’s outstanding investment environment to U.S. investors. Read on to find out more of Kerry’s background and hopes for Korea-U.S. relations.
How did you become interested in Korea?
My main interest in Korea came from the energy projects I was conducting in New England. I helped out one of my Korean friends who was born in Korea but residing in New Jersey while he was working in the energy field, marketing energy lightning like LED lighting and things of that nature. During the course of my helping him out to sell lighting in New England and throughout the United States, I became interested in Korea because Korean companies were supplying solar panels, lighting, other energy products and equipment like batteries. I was able to introduce him to products from Korea’s energy, environmental, as well as agricultural and fishing industries during this time, which sparked my interest in the country.
What about Korea’s history, economy or culture appeals to you the most?
Well, what appeals to me more than anything about Korea is the people. Korea has a rich history and I’ve always been intrigued by the country’s economic miracle and societal transformation that took place post World War II—that a country so devastated by war and economic adversity was able to overcome all of those difficulties and create an economic, political and social powerhouse. I’ve always admired the Korean people’s spirit and will to succeed.
Plus, when I was in graduate school, many of my friends were from Korea, and I always admired how hard they worked and how dedicated they were. Since I’ve been involved with various business development projects, I’ve always been a very strong supporter of the Korea businesses, because the Korean business leaders that I know take good care of their people and try to work together in a partnership with the American people, which I always found to be very positive characteristics.
How interested are companies from the U.S. in investing in Korea?
Companies that know about Korea and know what advantages are available are very interested. They believe the Korean government has created a positive environment for investment in Korea. They believe that the Korean labor force is strong and well-educated; they believe that the Korean market is stable and growing; and they know that the government has created a good environment for development. They just don’t know how to maneuver through the various regulatory, governmental processes and they probably don’t have direct connections with banks, so they need to be introduced to such entities.
When I ask people if they’d like to invest in Korea, they usually say, “It’s probably safer for me to invest in the U.S. Why should I go halfway around the world when I have many other opportunities in the U.S. and Canada?” To encourage them to explore their options in Korea, I’d like to focus on introducing them to specific people, projects and products in certain industries where I imagine that once they understood the opportunities, they would invest their money. In other words, I’d like to target someone from the solar or battery storage industry, or from agriculture, or even some of the seafood sectors, where there are strong markets in Korea for.
What sort of opportunities or sectors are they most interested in?
I think many companies in the U.S. are interested in the key industries that Korea has a high reputation for such as automotive manufacturing, technology, solar panel and battery storage. When they know they have an opportunity in Korea and that Korea is now becoming a leader in such sectors and now even in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and utilities—in which companies not only in the U.S. but also in the Caribbean are looking to develop industrial grade utilities projects—I’m hopeful that there will be some industries interested in either technology transfer or in partnering with Korea to develop new and unique products.
For example, I’m very much aware of a technology from the Netherlands that has been introduced to me in the U.S. which converts plastics into biofuels—a clean energy technology so to say. I think there might be investors both in the U.S. and Korea that may want to build a plant in Korea and then maybe one later in the U.S. So, these are projects involving products that are cutting edge and renewable, enhance the environment, and at the same time, create jobs.
What advice would you give investors and companies from your country seeking to do business in Korea?
The first thing I’d do is introduce them to advisors from KOTRA. They have a good process established to provide lots of support for potential investors in Korea. We should follow the process of identifying potential investors, introducing them to KOTRA and the programs and services that it offers, and then try to develop a win-win game plan where the investor would put up money as well as receive tax incentives, regulatory considerations, management advice, potential property and business tax delays or abatements—anything that will create a pathway forward, one that would lead to success.
I want to help create investment and jobs in Korea and at the same time, reciprocally, earn the investors a good profit for their investment in Korea. Hopefully, in the future, we can further expand our bilateral partnership and build a Korean-owned technology plant in the U.S. where technology would be exported as well as used domestically in the U.S.
What sort of support do investors from the U.S. want from Korea?
Generally speaking, people always want cash. That can be in the form of cash grants, tax incentives, real estate tax abatements, low-interest loans, long-term land leases preferably with no or low cost for a long period of time that would give them an opportunity to grow their business. They also want an open and receptive government at the local, state and federal level—someone that they can talk to and that will listen to their concerns.
Because of the language barrier that sometimes develops between countries, they want an advocate somewhere in the governmental structure advocating for a good public-private partnership (PPP) where the goals are set and people work together to create success, and that if any problems arise, there is someone to help smooth over some misunderstandings that may happen. By and large, people just want a fair deal and a win-win relationship.
How can Korea be a more ideal country for American companies?
Once again, Korea is a great country and I think most Americans understand that. Geopolitically, we’re very close to Korea. If you mention South Korea to Americans, they would say we’ve been partners and allies for many, many years. Most Americans see how hard Korean companies in the U.S. work. If you talk to those who know people working at Hyundai, Kia, Hanwha, as well as local businesses, they see the work ethic and integrity of Koreans.
Sometimes the language and cultural barriers lead Americans to think that Koreans may not be as open-minded and willing to work with them, but I want to break down some of those barriers to help develop good relationships. I’d say that personal relationships are the 99 percent of the battle.
What would you like to accomplish during your time as Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea?
First off, I’d like to educate a lot of the political and economic leaders in the U.S. on Korea’s assets and tell them that there are many opportunities for PPPs that can be developed. Also, I’d like to convince and persuade some of my friends who are in the business and political communities to support Korean enterprises in Korea as well as in the U.S.
I think many businesses in the U.S. would love to do business in Korea if they knew what great opportunities they’d find here—I just don’t think they know. Some of the big Fortune 500 companies know, but some of the more modest, medium-sized American companies are not as well aware. So I’d like to bring together in a PPP where various companies that I’m working with in the U.S. could partner with some companies in Korea and develop strong business relationships in the energy, environment, agriculture, fishing, pharmaceutical and even cosmetic sectors.
What are your hopes for economic/political relations between Korea and the U.S.?
I just want to see them continue to build a deeper, closer relationship going forward. I want them to both continue to grow. I’d like to see some bilateral projects take place where we can actually see as a result, economic, political and social success in Korea, where we create jobs in Korea and make profit for investors.
At the same time, I want the American investors to realize that Korea’s greatest asset is the Korean people themselves, and also generate projects that are mutually beneficial for both Korea and the United States.
John M. Kerry
Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea
President, John Kerry Energy Solutions, LLC
By Grace Park (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Investment Public Relations Team / Invest Korea
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA)