Group asking countries for a pass on business travel

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Group asking countries for a pass on business travel

As Korea’s economic situation grows increasingly desperate, one of its major business groups has begun lobbying the country’s key trading partners to ease travel restrictions for major companies.

Huh Chang-soo, chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), sent letters to 18 countries’ ministers of justice and foreign affairs on Thursday, asking them to withdraw or ease border control measures on Korean businessmen entering the countries.

The 18 countries consist of Korea’s major trading partners with their imports and exports accounting for more than 1 percent of Korea’s total trade, including China, the United States, Japan, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

Except for the United States, the countries have imposed some form of entry restrictions, from outright bans on the entire country or portions of it to mandatory two-week quarantines for arriving travelers.

The lobbying effort follows a similar request from President Moon Jae-in, who on Tuesday ordered his diplomats to work with countries that have placed travel restrictions on Koreans. He asked them to try to work on securing exceptions for business travelers, possibly through a new system of health certificates issued by the government.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it had secured travel restriction exceptions from four out of about 20 countries with which it has been in discussions but declined to specify which countries those were.

Vietnam is a focal point for the effort, as it is home to different manufacturing plants of Korea’s biggest companies such as Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.

Samsung Display, for instance, requested exemptions from Vietnam’s two-week self-quarantine requirement for around 700 Korean employees.

The entry restrictions could prove especially damaging to some conglomerates that have expanded production in neighboring countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, in an effort to distance their supply chains from the virus-hit home turf.

“Although it is understandable that such measures were taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Huh said in the letter, “I am concerned that such restrictions will have a significant impact on the bilateral economic exchanges as the restrictions will prohibit the entry of Korean business people.”

The trade group also listed a number of cases where the fast-spreading coronavirus threatens ongoing contracts.

Hyundai Corporation, a trading arm of Hyundai Group, recently assigned its staff to facilitate the exports of 600 large-sized buses manufactured by Hyundai Motor to Turkmenistan. But the employees were put into quarantine after arriving in the country, and the deal is at risk of being canceled, according to the FKI.

“As Covid-19 spreads across the world, Korea’s exports between Jan. 1 and Feb. 25 declined 0.4 percent compared to the same period last year,” the FKI said, “Exports to China were hit harder as the figure slumped 9.2 percent during the period.”

Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry also rang the alarm, calling for an interest rate cut, a more expansive supplementary budget and tax benefits for the affected industries.

The policy suggestions, released on Thursday, came after its chairman Park Yong-maan said the government’s supplementary budget needed to be more than tripled in size, to 40 trillion won ($33 billion), in order to be effective.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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