Ahn Choong-yong, a distinguished professor at Chung-Ang University's Graduate School of International Studies, showcases a culmination of several decades of expertise in foreign direct investment (FDI) in his recently published book.
At 82, Ahn discovers that his career, far from becoming a relic of the past, serves as a wellspring of inspiration for Korea's future-oriented goals in both the domestic and international arenas. Readers can delve into the insights offered by the 292-page book, titled "South Korea and Foreign Direct Investment: Policy Dynamics and the Aftercare Ombudsman," to gain a profound understanding of the subject. Ahn's work was published by Routledge, the U.K.-headquartered global publisher in academic books, journals and online resources in the humanities and social sciences.
"You precisely got the points that I wanted to address through this book, if you understood its roles on the future course of Korea's economy," the professor told The Korea Times during an interview, Nov. 29, on the sidelines of a ceremony for the book publication at Korea Press Center in central Seoul.
The book showcases the course of FDI development as Korea underwent rapid industrialization, and the relevant cases that he personally dealt with as an economist and reformist at multiple positions.
On the domestic front, the book advocates for Korea to enhance FDI aftercare, specifically addressing business challenges that foreign enterprises encounter while operating in the country.
As a result, the so-called Foreign Direct Ombudsman should be connected with the presidential regulatory reform committee to create a better international business environment for Korea.
The measure, according to the professor, is broadly associated with the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's regulatory reform and also its vision to turn Korea into a Singapore-style business hub.
The number of foreign businesses in Korea is estimated at between 13,000 and 14,000. For the Korean economy, they account for roughly 20 percent of total exports, about 6 percent of total employment, 6.5 percent of total research and development (R&D), and 13 percent of domestic sales.
Their presence is thus increasingly vital, especially as Korea suffers from "losing competitiveness in high and medium-tech areas and a lack of future investments in strategic sectors to result in a worrisome sluggish growth trap."
On the international front, the book cites the need for the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to benchmark Korea's FDI aftercare system and officially put it into a relevant investment chapter.
The book also suggests updating about 3,300 existing international investment treaties for cross-border investment and trade facilitation.
UNCTAD is tasked with helping developing countries access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively.
Korea has a deep interest to share its successful development experiences with other developing countries, and accordingly, has pursued the goal through its Knowledge Sharing Program (KSP).
Also, massive sales losses suffered by Lotte and other Korean companies in China due to Beijing's retaliation against deployment of U.S. THAAD missile shield in Korea in the late 2010s make it crucial to enhance the FDI system and aftercare on the world stage, according to the professor.
"Countries around the world seek to attract inward FDI since such investments typically create good, high-paying jobs, bring in foreign knowhow, and facilitate exports to foreign markets," he said. "While a great deal has been written on how countries can attract FDI, much less has been written on how countries can provide aftercare for the FDI once it is in place."
The professor added, "I firmly believe that an FDI aftercare system should be part of every nation's FDI package and needs to be widely shared with FDI seeking economies."
He assessed Korea in that regard can become prominent considering the fact that its aftercare "is the first of its kind" in the world.
In particular, Ahn pioneered implementing an ombudsman system to support foreign businesses and investigate their complaints.
He served as president of the Korea International Economics Association, president of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, chair of the APEC Economic Committee, chair of the Foreign Investment Ombudsman, civilian chair of Korea's Presidential Regulatory Committee and chairman of the Korea Commission of Corporate Partnership.
His rich experience in FDI was apparently witnessed at the publication ceremony, joined by a legion of high-profile policymakers, scholars, CEOs, and executives of foreign chambers of commerce, both active and retired.
Among them were SaKong Il, former finance minister in the 1980s, Park Seung, former Bank of Korea (BOK) governor in the 2000s, and Jeffrey Jones, former American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM Korea) chairman in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In a review, SaKong recommended the book to policymakers in emerging economies and students of economic development as it "lucidly documents South Korea's entire FDI policy dynamics and institutions."
Jones spoke highly of Ahn being "on the front lines constantly battling for reform and liberalization of a very tight regulatory system that was choking investment opportunities in Korea."