|President Moon Jae-in and his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev, shake hands in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, last year. Korea Times file|
By Lee Kyung-min
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will visit Korea before the end of this year, sources said Monday.
"Apart from the visit, a couple of joint feasibility studies are ongoing to determine the economic impact that will entail the two countries signing a bilateral free trade agreement," a senior official at the Ministry of Economy and Finance told The Korea Times.
The visit of the head of state of a country in Central Asia, a key region with which Korea seeks to bolster bilateral economic relations, is in accordance with President Moon Jae-in's "New Northern Policy" initiative. Moon declared 2020 as the year of improving relations with what his government calls "New Northern Nations," mostly in Eurasia.
The envisioned visit will follow one by Umurzakov Sardor Uktamovich, the country's deputy prime minister for investments and foreign economic affairs who doubles as investments and foreign trade minister, July 7. Korea's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki met him at the Seoul Government Complex in Gwanghwamun that day.
The rare visit of the high-ranking foreign government official was meaningful because it was the first since March when most official visits were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Umurzakov's visit came on the heels of a business deal signed between Uzbekneftegaz (UNG), Uzbekistan's state-run oil and gas corporation, and SK Engineering & Construction (E&C), an infrastructure building subsidiary of SK Group.
The two signed a front-end engineering design (FEED), agreement July 6, according to which SK E&C will modernize the Bukhara Oil Refinery. This is the first significant joint project to materialize following the government's plan announced June 15 to help more Korean firms win overseas business deals.
The Uzbek president is expected to seek more prompt and detailed cooperation in advancing almost 100 bilateral business projects, including 39 outlined in a summit in Uzbekistan, April 2019, and 57 outlined during a telephone conversation April 13.
Most will be pursued in the form of "investment development," which the finance ministry calls an advanced form of turnkey project. This is a high-value creation growth initiative whereby Korean developers oversee and manage the entire process, including business model planning, equity investment, product purchases, construction and facility operation.
Also to be discussed is the extension of a three-year joint business projects agreement concerning a $500 million (593 billion won) Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) set to expire in 2020.
Under the project, Korea helped the country set up a school of medicine, a national cancer center and a national geographical information system. The fund was set up in 1987 to promote economic cooperation between Korea and developing countries.