As Prime Minister Narendra Modi commenced his two-day visit to Seoul Monday, South Korea has offered to set up a $10-billion fund to support several of his ambitious projects, from bullet trains to smart cities, the country's envoy to India Joon-gyu Lee has said.
"My country is offering India a financial package amounting to a total of $10 billion. This will comprise an economic development cooperation fund of $1 billion and export credits of another $9 billion," Lee told IANS in an exclusive interview.
"This fund will be used to support several of Prime Minister Modi's initiatives on infrastructure development, including smart cities project, railways, power generation, transmission and also other sectors that can be agreed upon at a later stage," Lee added.
According to him, South Korean companies are especially interested in developing India's railroad network, ports and other modern transportation mediums. "Discussions with the relevant ministries and companies are ongoing -- like in upgrading the existing railways," the ambassador elaborated.
"South Korea has the experience in all aspects of railway development, from modernisation of the existing network to complete turnkey for high-speed 'bullet trains'. My country stands ready to work with India to develop its transportation infrastructure."
As he landed in Seoul on Monday, infrastructure, apart from the hard-sell of his "Make in India" campaign, in the typical Modi style, is set to be the cornerstone of the India premier's visit to this northeast asian nation with which India enjoys bilateral trade worth $20 billion annually.
Modi has, many a time, evinced interest in South Korea's capability in ship building and the need to boost the Indian vessel-manufacturing operations. Seoul is keen to pursue ties in this area as well.
"We are working hard on this issue. We appreciate very much the prime minister's acknowledgement for our ship-building industry. We are obliged, and priviledged, to respond to India's call for collaborations seriously," the ambassador said in the free-wheeling talk with IANS.
According to him, the prime minister's visit to the biggest shipyard in South Korea was showed how important this industry was to both nations, "I am sure our two government will find a nice way to explore the big potential of cooperation in ship-building."
On the interest shown by South Korean companies to expand manufacturing operations in India, the envoy said: "You may expect larger number of Korean companies and more investments. Decisions will be made by companies themselves, but I can share the bright prospects," he said.
"Our companies have been doing well in India. This has led Korean company to consider further expansion of their manufacturing and other operations in India. I hope the trend continues. I'm sure Korea can become a key partner in 'Make in India' initiative," said Lee.
South Korean companies, especially their large global conglomerates, called chaebols in their language, have become household names in India, notably Samsung, LG and Hyundai, and earlier Daewoo.
Asked about the trade balance being heavily skewed in South Korea's favour, at $7.5 billion per annum, the ambassador said the government's of the both have held talks to allow greater market access to Indian pharma and services sectors to prune the imbalance.
"There is no doubt both sides should gain from trade for the relationship to grow. At the same, I agree that continued trade imbalance is not good. But please also understand, significant volumes of Korean exports to India is intermediate goods, like components, which are assembled in India."
He expected the issue to be discussed by the leaderships of the two countries during the prime Minister's visit. "Korea will do it's best to get rid of any obstacles, if any, for fine Indian goods to be exported to our country," the ambassador said.