Shortcut to Body Shortcut to main menu

Feature Stories

  • Home
  • Why KOREA
  • Feature Stories
Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea, President & CEO of the Korea Society : One-on-One with Thomas Byrne
Thomas Byrne, Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea

Invest KOREA talks to Thomas Byrne, Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea, to hear about how his career experience can contribute to raising awareness on Korea as a favorable investment destination.

Thomas Byrne, newly appointed as Honorary Ambassador for Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea, is also the President and CEO of The Korea Society, a New York City-based non-profit organization. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University and Georgetown University.

Prior to joining The Korea Society in 2015, Byrne was the Singapore-based regional Sovereign Risk Group manager for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East for Moody’s Investors Service, where he worked on the credit rating for the Republic of Korea, among other governments. Before starting his professional career, Byrne served in the US Peace Corps in Korea in a rural county for three years in the late-1970s. For Byrne, this was an amazing experience that immersed him in Korean culture and introduced him to the country’s remarkable economic development story from a first-hand, grass-roots perspective.

Read on to hear about how his career experience contributes to raising awareness on Korea as a favorable investment destination.
Thomas Byrne, Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea
Mr. Byrne, can you tell us about your future plans or ambitions as honorary ambassador?

One of my ambitions as Honorary Ambassador is to employ the capabilities and network of The Korea Society to heighten awareness of the importance of long-term investment relations between Korea and the US.

The mission of the Society since it was founded by General James A. Van Fleet in 1957 has been to promote awareness, understanding and cooperation between the people of Korea and America. This is just as relevant today, as it was more than six decades ago. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the US-ROK Alliance. The April 2023 summit between Presidents Biden and Yoon produced the “Washington Declaration,” that noted a relationship “what began as a security partnership has grown and expanded into a truly global Alliance that champions democratic principles, enriches economic cooperation and drives technological advancements.” The bilateral trade aspect of economic cooperation has already attracted much attention and reaped many mutual benefits since the KORUS Free Trade Agreement came into force in 2012. However, I believe that the importance of the investment aspect of economic cooperation calls for a greater appreciation by all stakeholders in both countries. This is especially so in ensuring stable supply chains and in developing critical and cutting edge technologies needed for future economic prosperity and sustainability.

The activities of The Korea Society have over the past several years increasingly focused on the burgeoning investment relationship between Korea and the US. The Society has done this in its inaugural National Outreach Program in Atlanta, Georgia in 2022, in its Leadership Interview Series with distinguished leaders in business, economics and public policy and with its annual Van Fleet Award that recognizes individuals and organizations that have advanced ties between the US and Korea.

In regard to investment relations, I would like to draw greater attention to US investment in Korea, which has been overlooked, in part because it has not risen as dramatically and Korean investment in the US has. The Korea Society’s role as a forum can serve to draw together decision makers in the private and public sectors for discussions on factors which will drive investment flows between the two countries, including the implications of the emergence of a modern industrial policy in recent US legislation—namely the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act.

Please explain the kinds of investment cooperation between Korea and the country you are living in.

The main recent trend in the US-Korea investment relationship is the strong growth in Korean FDI into the US, which increased by 33 percent from 2017 to 2021 to a stock position of USD 72 billion, according to the latest statistics from the US Commerce Department. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the upturn continues, as seen in huge projects announced by Korean corporations since 2022 in such industries as semiconductor chip fabrication, EV production, EV battery and battery materials production and photovoltaic solar panel manufacturing.

On the other hand, investment by US companies in Korea was relatively stable according to the Commerce Department’s SelectUSA reports, with a stock position of USD 38 billion over the same time period ending in 2021.

More recently, however, US and well as global foreign direct investment in Korea has perked up. For example, Korea’s state-of-the art manufacturing prowess attracted interest from pioneering US biotech companies during the pandemic to boost global availability of vaccines. And the growing prowess of “K-culture” soft power has attracted interest from the US entertainment industry and streaming services. Such developments are well-worth following and highlighting.
Thomas Byrne, Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea
What is Invest KOREA doing in your country?

As a newly appointed honorary ambassador, I look forward to learning more of Invest KOREA and of KOTRA’s activities in the US. In general, KOTRA’s main activities include providing support to newly exporting companies, fostering global partnerships, discovering new business areas, providing training and capacity support and providing market research and other informational services.

In particular, I was fortunate to participate in an exciting special event in September 2022, K-Lifestyle USA, the largest event hosted by the KOTRA New York office. The three-day expo actually held in New Jersey featured over 100 lifestyle brands representing the hottest K-culture trends and innovations. It was a well-attended event and featured participation by New Jersey state legislative representatives—which reflected the broad synergies and friendship of the US-Korea relationship.

Why do you think a company should cooperate with Invest KOREA to invest in Korea?

As other honorary ambassadors have noted, Invest KOREA it is the only entity that specializes in providing foreign companies with seamless consultation and guidance with support from KOTRA offices in the US. This will help investors find their niche and benefit from Korea’s sound economic fundamentals. As Invest KOREA notes on its website, Korea is the world’s 10th largest economy, with GDP approaching USD 2 trillion. Its international payments record and credit quality are very strong, as reflected in Moody’s Investors Service Aa2 sovereign credit rating, backed up by predictable foreign exchange policies and the ninth largest foreign exchange reserves holdings in the world, USD 427 billion, as of April 2023 according to the Bank of Korea.

In addition, Korea is a global leader in infrastructure—it has one of the best public transportation systems in the world, notably its urban subway systems and the national high-speed rail network. The country’s gateway Incheon Airport is consistently rated in the top five globally by SKYTRAX. And its information and communication technologies (ICT) ranks first in the world according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Moreover, Korea has the highest education completion rate in among OECD countries. As Invest KOREA notes, “people are the most important resource in Korea, and they are what keep innovation alive in the country.”

By Taehwa Hong
Investment Public Relations Team / Invest KOREA
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA)

Meta information