Best thing is to learn from competitors, says Youngone Chairman
South Korean Ambassador to Bangladesh Lee Jang-keun has said the future of Bangladesh-South Korea relations “looks very bright and it will get brighter” with diversified success stories with a significant one already created by Youngone.
“We see the future of our relations very, very bright. The reason is very simple…,” said Ambassador Lee responding to a question from Dhaka Courier sitting beside Chairman and CEO of Youngone Kihak Sung at Korean EPZ.
The South Korean Ambassador noted that the shining accomplishment that Bangladesh has shown not only to its people but the entire world is something that offers many opportunities ahead.
Both Sung and Ambassador Lee welcomed the members of Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) at the KEPZ to show the facilities there. KEPZ President Jahangir Saadat was also present.
Referring to South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun’s recent remarks, the Korean envoy said his Prime Minister’s message captured all the elements of the bilateral relations and Korea’s assessment over the future of bilateral relations.
"We'll be the most trusted friends to Bangladesh, ushering in a shining future together," Korean Prime Minister Chung recently said, mentioning that Bangladesh, with its remarkable economic development and rapid emergence in the heart of Asia, is echoing the miracle on the Han River, a major river in South Korea.
He said the international community has been deeply impressed to see that Bangladesh, even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic when the world economy has slowed down, succeeded in achieving the greatest level of economic growth.
“We’ve enjoyed an excellent relationship in the past decades. Our future relationship looks much better,” said Korean Ambassador Lee, adding that both Bangladesh and Korea achieved remarkable economic growth even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the KEPZ is a symbol of Korea-Bangladesh cooperation and relations and Youngone came here 40 years ago setting a shining example.
“The relations between Korea and Bangladesh are very unique in many senses, especially in terms of the RMG sector it is very, very unique,” said the Ambassador.
He said the Korean companies have grown up together with Bangladesh and the readymade garment or RMG is already the main industry of this country.
Showing around the facilities at KEPZ, Youngone Chairman Sung said some Korean companies are very interested to come to this zone. “I’m pursuing them to come and contribute to the industrial development of Bangladesh.”
He said infrastructure in and around Chattogram is progressing very well. “I must say I’m very optimistic that we’ll be doing much better. We’re doing a very good job in bringing more investment.”
Responding to a question, the Korean Ambassador said the future of Bangladesh lies in ICT development. “If you’ve ideas and I find many innovative people in Bangladesh, especially among young people.”
Talking about the demographic dividend of Bangladesh, the Korean envoy said Bangladesh has a large number of young people which is an advantage for the development of ICT. “Korea can be the very natural partner of Bangladesh in ICT development.”
The Ambassador said he will focus on ICT cooperation and they are currently working on digitalisation of the local government in Bangladesh.
The Korean Export Processing Zone, which is a symbol of bilateral economic cooperation, has embarked on a project to build a Hi-Tech Park with the Bangladesh government.
The Korean Prime Minister recently said the Hi-Tech Park will emerge as a “hub for ICT-centric innovative growth” in tune with the digital transformation in the post-Covid era.
The areas of cooperation, which had been more focused on the textiles and garment industry, have now expanded to encompass a diverse range of fields such as ICT, construction, energy and culture, thereby creating more windows of opportunity.
The KEPZ Hi-Tech Park will introduce an IT park and provide essential support in the form of education, technical training and human resource development.
Keeping with the national objective of achieving a digital Bangladesh, IT facilities will be designed so as to facilitate the software revolution in Bangladesh.
Diversification of Cooperation
Ambassador Lee said RMG is still dominating in their collaboration with Bangladesh which played a very important role.
“Our future relations should go beyond the RMG sector and should be much more diversified. We’re seeing very good signs and symptoms in recent years. More and more Korean companies are participating in infrastructure development in this country. There’ll be much more,” he said.
The Ambassador said there is much more potential between the two governments to create as many as success stories.
“Youngone is one of the success stories we’re showing all around the world. If we’ve more and more success stories like Youngone and KEPZ, more investors will come up,” he said.
Youngone Chairman Sung said once Youngone is more successful and more comfortable here in Bangladesh, there will be many other companies to join and make a big investment.
“That’s a brighter part of our future. You need jobs,” Sung said, adding that young people in Patiya and Anwara upazila have more job opportunities than ever, which is also a good thing. “I can’t emphasize enough how it is contributing to the economy of Bangladesh.”
He said there is a need to work really very hard to make better infrastructure -- be it physical, electrical, administrative and customs. These infrastructures should be improved so that RMG or similar factories can compete better in the global market, make money, and invest and diversify the industry.
Responding to a question, Sung said the best thing is to learn from one’s competitors. “You competitor was of course China, now more of Vietnam.”
There are already more than 200 Korean companies operating in Bangladesh contributing to the economic development of the two countries. The volume of bilateral trade reached around 1.6 billion US dollars.
Under the special arrangement between the two countries, more than 10,000 Bangladeshis are working in Korea under the Korea’s Employment Permit System (EPS).
Bangladesh's Textile Hub
Textile zone at the Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) in Chattogram will become a “textile hub” in Bangladesh bringing a lot of businesses if the required support is provided to "quickly and fully '' implement it, says the Youngone chief.
He said the five mega factories, if completed, will have a combined floor space of over 2,000,000 sft.
“Bangladesh needs to make a lot of efforts to produce and supply more manmade fibre (MMF) so that such a supply chain is established successfully here,” said South Korea-based global conglomerate Youngone Corporation Chairman and CEO Kihak Sung.
He said such efforts will help Bangladesh get a lot of businesses, not losing everything to Vietnam. “That’s my challenge now.”
During an interaction at the KEPZ recently, Sung said they have a budget to invest another US$ 400 million of their investment. “As long as we’re competitive and customers can take our goods and they make a profit, then we can increase it (investment volume)."
Youngone already started manufacturing polyester fabrics at the two latest state-of-the-art polyester product factories with a floor space of over 430,000 for each which will be expanded to two more similar units for export and supply of high-quality products to garments and apparel factories in Bangladesh as an import substitute and backward linkage.
“We want to be really supportive of Bangladesh garment factories. We need to make raw materials, garments and everything here,” Sung said, adding that quality energy supply still remains the main challenge.
He said they are applying for the generation of captive power in the KEPZ to meet "essential demand of quality" power supply for the sophisticated textile industries.
“We’re appealing to the government to give us a license very quickly so that we can run and produce high quality products for Bangladesh garment factories,” Sung who is also Honorary Chairman of Korean Federation of Textile Industries (KOFOTI).
He laid emphasis on better infrastructure to be able to enhance export as well as making money. “Losing money, doing more production and more export is not sustainable.”
Responding to a question, the immediate past President of the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) said Vietnam is doing extremely well and "deserve our attention."
“I’ve units in Vietnam. They’re doing well and growing faster than Bangladesh. We need to catch up with that. If we can please our customers with the delivery and quality then customers will naturally rely on us giving more business,” he said.
Sung said they are unable to construct two new factory buildings now due to Gas Ring Main (GRM) pipeline of Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Co, Ltd, currently passing diagonally from north to south in the textile zone.
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid has been apprised on the issue and he directed the KGDCL to take necessary steps.
Inspired by his love of nature and outdoor pursuits, Sung founded Youngone Corporation in 1974.