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Ambassador LEE Jang-keun tells Banglanews

South Korea plans to import 10,000 workers from Bangladesh this year

Touhidur Rahman, Diplomatic Correspondent  | banglanews24.com
Update: 2023-05-10 20:11:31
South Korea plans to import 10,000 workers from Bangladesh this year

South Korea has planned to import around 10,000 workers from Bangladesh through the EPS (Employment Permit System) this year, according to its ambassador to Dhaka LEE Jang-Keun. 

In an interview with Banglanews Diplomatic Correspondent Touhidur Rahman, the envoy also said his country is likely to increase the number of migrant workers from Bangladesh in the coming years if the current trend continues.

The full interview is as follows:

Banglanews: Bangladesh-South Korea celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations. How do you assess the relationship between the two countries?

Lee Jang-Keun: Korea and Bangladesh have been cultivating, strengthening, and deepening bilateral ties for the past five decades in every respect and in every field.

The biggest achievement in our bilateral relationship is in the RMG sector. In 1979 Mr. Noor Quader, founder of Desh Garment and father of Bangladesh’s RMG entered into a partnership with a Korean company Daewoo Corporation which marked the start of a garment industry in Bangladesh. Thereafter, Korean companies have been with Bangladesh in its journey to become the second-largest RMG exporter in the world. Youngone Corporation, the first and largest RMG foreign investor in Bangladesh, established the Korean EPZ or KEPZ in Chattogram, the first private EPZ in Bangladesh. Among the around 300 Korean companies in Bangladesh, the majority are in the RMG sector. RMG accounts for almost 80 percent of Korea’s investment in Bangladesh.

Based on the success of RMG collaboration, the bilateral relations of the two countries have expanded to other areas such as infrastructure, ICT, automobiles, health, development cooperation, human resources development, and people-to-people exchanges.

In infrastructure development, around 110 Korean companies have participated in about 200 projects in Bangladesh since the establishment of diplomatic ties. Total project value exceeds 8 billion US dollars. In this development cooperation, Bangladesh is one of the priority partner countries of Korea and the third largest recipient of Korea’s ODA, official development assistance. In ICT and automobiles, in partnership with  Bangladeshi companies, Samsung and Hyundai have been assembling its product locally. Samsung Electronics has been operating its R&D Institute in Dhaka for almost one decade. In the area of people-to-people exchanges, around 1,500 Bangladeshi students are studying in Korea most of whom are in higher degree programs and in the engineering fields. Also, Korea has been taking Bangladesh expatriate workers since early 2000 through EPS, Employment Permit System. The number of workers Korea is taking annually increased to 6,000 in 2021 which used to be around 1,500 on average in previous years. It will be further increased to 10,000 in 2023.

However, there are huge potential to be untapped. There are increasing interests and willingness from both countries to take the current good relations into a new height. This year marking the 50th diplomatic anniversary will be an important stepping stone to that end.

Banglanews: Bangladesh and South Korea's bilateral trade crossed three billion US dollars last year. How can trade between the two countries be increased?

Lee Jang-Keun: It was a very encouraging development that the bilateral trade volume crossed 3 billion US dollars last year. In fact, the trade volume between Korea and Bangladesh has been stagnant for almost one decade after it reached a peak of 1.87 billion dollars in 2011, which was very unusual. It even decreased to 1.42 billion dollars in 2020. But finally, it started to rebound from 2021 crossing 2 billion dollars, and further jumped in 2022 now crossing 3 billion dollars. We need to keep the momentum.

When it comes to Bangladesh’s export to Korea, I would like to stress that Korea has been providing duty and quota-free access to 95 percent of Bangladesh products to the Korean market since 2012, while many of the Korean products face a high rate of duties to enter the Bangladesh market. Another important factor that Bangladesh companies should have in mind is that they could get higher cash incentives from the Bangladesh government when they export to Korea, a non-traditional market. Exporters to Korea will get around 4 percent of cash incentives.

RMG, textiles, and garments account for more than 85 percent of the total export of Bangladesh to Korea. Out of 677 million dollars in 2022, 563 million dollars was for garments and textiles. RMG alone has a big potential to increase its export to Korea. According to the International Trade Centre (ITC) data, South Korea's apparel imports stood at $10.53 billion in 2021. China is the largest export source, $3.54 billion with a share of 33.62% followed by Vietnam, Italy, and Indonesia. Bangladesh exported $530 million in FY2022 to Korea, of which apparel shipments amounted to $440 million with a share of 4.23%.

Bangladesh needs to make rigorous efforts to increase exports to Korea by sending business delegations to Korea and participating in various exhibitions in Korea. The establishment of direct cargo lines, both maritime and air cargo, will contribute to the increase of trade between Korea and Bangladesh.

FTA with Korea should be considered as a part of the preparation of Bangladesh’s graduation from the LDC in 2026. As Korea’s preferential duty treatment to Bangladesh is coming from its LDC status, it will be gone after Bangladesh’s LDC graduation.

Banglanews:  Bangladeshi citizens who are interested in traveling to South Korea, Is there any initiative to simplify the tourist visa?

Lee Jang-Keun: We welcome Bangladesh people to come to Korea. In particular, for those who are traveling to Korea for official or business purposes, we try to facilitate the visa process, especially by giving multiple and multi-year visas. Even though the corona pandemic slowed down, and even suspended the travel of Bangladeshis to Korea for some time, increasing numbers of Bangladesh people are traveling to Korea now.

However, in order to prevent the illegal stay of foreigners in Bangladesh without legitimate legal status, we are scrutinizing applicants and their documents. As there are occasional scam cases and some people do not return home after their visa term ends it is inevitable to apply strict conditions, especially for the tourists. 

Banglanews: South Korea is a top choice country for Bangladeshi workers. How many workers can go to Korea under the EPS system this year?

Lee Jang-Keun: Bangladesh migrant workers are an important pillar of Korea-Bangladesh relations. Before the corona pandemic, Korea used to take an average of 1,500 Bangladesh expatriate workers annually through the EPS scheme.

After over one year of suspension in taking the EPS workers due to the pandemic, Korea resumed taking Bangladesh workers in November 2021. In 2022, as many as around 6,000 Bangladesh EPS workers went to Korea. This year we plan to take around 10,000 migrant workers from Bangladesh through the EPS. It is likely that the number can be further increased in the coming years if the current trend continues.

In this regard, "I would like to share with you that for the first time this year, Korea started to take skilled Bangladesh workers with different visa categories. They are welders and painters who will work at shipyards in Korea and will have much higher salaries. So far this year around 100 Bangladesh workers in this category went to Korea."

Banglanews: Do you see any obstacles in expanding Bangladesh-Korea trade and investment? If yes,  how can these obstacles be overcome?

Lee Jang-Keun: Many Koreans see increasing business opportunities in and with Bangladesh as Bangladesh continues to make solid economic progress.

The biggest obstacle in trade or investment is the complicated, unpredictable, and sometimes non-transparent bureaucratic process. When a business company face problem with the government authorities, it is often not the process itself but the personal connections that solve the situation. Moreover, it takes a long time to resolve the problem or situation. During the course, they have to face increasing financial costs and personal or organizational agony.

One of the examples is the extension of visas for Korean residents in Bangladesh. Even though they have lived in Bangladesh for a long period, more than ten years, running businesses and investments, most of them should apply for visa extensions or renewals every year. Moreover, it takes a long time to get the approval of the Bangladesh government, more than two or three months.

I believe that the Bangladesh government should listen to the Koreans who have already invested in Bangladesh, who are living and doing business in Bangladesh, and help them to make a successful business and solve their difficulties. It should be the best way to attract more and more Korean investors to Bangladesh.

Banglanews: During your tenure in Dhaka, what is your perspective and experience of Bangladesh?

Lee Jang-Keun: I feel very blessed to come to Bangladesh and serve as an ambassador, representing Korea and working for the friendly ties between our two countries.

Getting to know and learn about Bangladesh and Bangladeshi people for the past three years was really a special experience for me.

I am leaving the country with a sense of full accomplishment - both for my personal life and official work. In particular, in my official mandate of strengthening the bilateral ties, I am happy and proud that there have been several record-breaking developments.

As I have already mentioned, the bilateral trade volume doubled from 1.5 billion dollars in 2020 to 3 billion dollars in 2022. The number of Bangladesh expatriate workers going to Korea increased significantly from 1,500 before the pandemic to 6,000 last year. It will be further increased to 10,000 this year. Another big progress is Korea’s official development assistance to Bangladesh. In particular, Korea recently decided to significantly increase its soft loan with the best conditions to Bangladesh from 700 million dollars to 3 billion dollars for a period of five years.

Bangladesh has made remarkable achievements during the past decades and has a very promising future. I hope Bangladesh will become a big success case in the world, a country that could give hope and inspiration to other countries.

Banglanews: Thank you.
Lee Jang-Keun: Thank you too.

BDST: 2011 HRS, MAY 10, 2023
SMS

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