This paper aims to provide some broad observations on the strategy of the South Korean Government in connection with its international investment treaties. The observations herein are based on my experience and involvement as a former trade negotiator for a significant number of the Free Trade Agreement (“FTA”) and Bilateral Investment Treaty (“BIT”) negotiations that commenced from 2005 to 2008 between South Korea and 28 other countries.
South Korea has generally taken a very hospitable approach to investment treaties. This attitude dates back to the 1960s when our Government significantly developed the South Korean economy with the so-called “export-oriented industrialization strategy.” Emerging from the devastation and aftermath of the Korean War, South Korea found itself as one of the most underdeveloped and impoverished countries in the world. The popular slogan “exports are the only way to survive” would appear daily in the national media to the point where it eventually became engraved in the hearts and minds of the South Korean people.
It is an incontrovertible fact that if a country wants to export goods, it first has to produce them. Producing goods requires factories and infrastructure. In the early 1960s, however, all that existed in South Korea were the remnants of the costly Korean War. Therefore, South Korea desperately needed foreign investment. To attract such investment, our country had to do everything it could, including negotiating and signing investment treaties to strengthen its economy. This mindset pushed South Korea to actively and aggressively enter into investment agreements over the next decades.