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Trade & Project Financing

Methods of Payment

The Korean financial system is frequently hard-pressed to meet the demand for financing and capital for international commercial transactions. This is mainly attributed to banks holding BIS (Bank for International Settlement Reserves) capital adequacy ratios above the 10 percent required and to being stricter on loan requirements for SMEs and small businesses, given significant personal household debt. Foreign companies in start-up operations with a Korean partner often need to invest financial resources for the joint venture, while their Korean partner makes in-kind investments, i.e., land or facilities, for their share of equity. Joint-venture companies and foreign firms often work with branches of foreign banks for local-currency financing, although the branches of foreign banks control a small portion of available Korean Won.

Sources of Korean Won financing have included domestic commercial banks, regional banks, and specialized banks, including the Korea Development Bank, the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, the Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK), and the Korea Housing Bank.

Korea’s major international banks offer services for all types of international trade payment methods. When you engage in business activities with a customer overseas, knowing how to collect payment on an overseas sales transaction is the single most critical factor for SME business owners who aspire to expand their international business operations.

Common overseas payment methods include:

  • Sight and deferred payment Letters of Credit (L/C),
  • Documents against Acceptance (D/A) and Documents against Payment (D/P), and
  • Open Account Transactions.

D/A and L/Cs are forms of extended credit in which the importer makes no payment for the goods until the date called for in the L/C.

D/P is similar to D/A except that the importer cannot clear the goods from customs prior to making payment. In some cases an importer can clear goods prior to payment under a sight L/C. L/C transactions generally follow standard international Uniform Customs and Practice (UCP) codes.

CS Korea recommends that U.S. companies consider dealing on a confirmed L/C credit basis with new and even familiar customers. A confirmed L/C through a U.S. bank is recommended because it prevents unwanted changes to the original L/C, and it places responsibility for collection on the banks rather than on the seller. Once a business relationship has strengthened over time, use of payment mechanisms other than L/Cs can be employed.

For more extensive details on international payment methods, please see: http://export.gov/tradefinanceguide/eg_main_043221.asp. For specifics on letters of credit and documentary collections, please see here http://export.gov/tradefinanceguide/eg_main_043245.asp and here http://export.gov/tradefinanceguide/eg_main_043246.asp. The complete Department of Commerce Export Finance Guide, which covers these and other aspects of international trade finance, can be downloaded here: http://export.gov/tradefinanceguide/index.asp

To reduce risk of nonpayment, U.S. companies may also contact credit rating agencies, which can provide fee-based corporate information to evaluate the financial credibility of Korean companies. Dun & Bradstreet Korea (https://www.dnb.com/product/contract.htm), the Korea Investors Service (http://www.kisrating.com/eng/), and the Korean Information Service are known to provide fee-based credit rating services in Korea.

CS Korea can provide valuable information, including a company’s credit standing, through our fee-based International Company Profile Service http://export.gov/southkorea/servicesforuscompanies/icp/index.asp. The Korean Commercial Arbitration Board http://www.kcab.or.kr/servlet/kcab_adm/memberauth/5000 and private collection agencies can provide arbitration and collection services. KCAB's mediation staff can counsel on the arbitration procedure to suit both Korean and foreign companies' specific needs and assist in communication and negotiation.

Whatever payment terms are agreed upon, make sure they are understood by all parties and that your client, representative or contact signs a mutually agreed document. Payment terms must be agreed to in advance. It is rarely wise to sell on open account to a brand new customer.

Banking Systems

Korea’s financial system consists of banking and non-bank financial institutions. The Financial Services Commission (FSC: http://www.fsc.go.kr/eng/) and the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS: http://english.fss.or.kr/fss/en/main.jsp), its regulatory arm, are responsible for supervising and examining all banks, including specialized and government-owned banks, as well as securities and insurance companies. The FSC and the FSS have played a key role in financial restructuring and has strengthened the regulatory and supervisory framework governing the entire financial sector.

Financial Services and KORUS FTA

With the March 15, 2012, implementation of the KORUS FTA, the U.S. financial service industry can expect new and unprecedented access to the Korean market. Financial service commitments outlined in the KORUS FTA are some of the most progressive commitments made with any U.S. trade partner to date. The Agreement locks in standards, regulations, and commitments that increase the transparency, predictability, and cost-efficiency for operating in the Korean financial services market.

Some of the financial service commitments inherent in this Agreement include:

  • Language allowing for cross-border data flow and giving U.S.-based “back-office” support to U.S. firms with operations in Korea. This commitment has a two-year phase-in period, designed to identify, review, and modify data transfer practices to ensure protections in Korea that are no less stringent than those in the U.S.
  • Permitting U.S. financial institutions the ability to establish or acquire financial institutions in Korea and choose the corporate form that best meets their business needs
  • Encouraging Korea to implement several reforms that would contribute to the transparency of rules and procedures, including regional integration of data processing.

Consult: http://www.uskoreacouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Financial-Services-and-the-U.S.-Korea-FTA.pdf.

Foreign Exchange Controls

Korea has liberalized foreign exchange controls, in line with OECD benchmarks. A foreign firm that invests under the terms of the Foreign Capital Promotion Act (FCPA: http://legal.un.org/avl/pdf/ls/Shin_RelDocs.pdf) is permitted to remit a substantial portion of its profits, providing it submits an audited financial statement to its foreign exchange bank.

To withdraw capital, a stock valuation report issued by a recognized securities company or the Korean Appraisal Board must be presented. Foreign companies not investing under the FCPA must repatriate funds through authorized foreign exchange banks after obtaining government approval. Although Korea does not routinely limit the repatriation of funds, it reserves the right to do so in exceptional circumstances, such as in situations which may harm its international balance of payments, cause excessive fluctuations in interest or exchange rates, or threaten the stability of its domestic financial markets. To date, the Korean government has had no instance of limiting repatriation for these reasons, even during and after the 1997-98 financial crisis.

The Bank of Korea has detailed information about foreign-exchange control policies in Korea. Consult: http://eng.bok.or.kr/.

U.S. Banks & Local Correspondent Banks

For a list of major U.S. and Korean banks in Korea, consult: http://export.gov/southkorea/usefullinks/majoruskoreanbanks/index.asp

Project Financing

Project financing (PF) is designed to facilitate funding of large-scale projects. The concept was first introduced in Korea to finance a highway construction project between Seoul and the Incheon International Airport. The government's decision to introduce this financing technique was prompted by the need to boost domestic demand by stimulating investments in large-scale projects, including housing construction and social infrastructure facilities.

Most of Korea’s social overhead capital (SOC) projects are funded through PF. PF is also used for the financing of private sector projects, to include real estate development and buy-outs of financially troubled companies. Several Korean and foreign banks provide PF and offer venture capital investment programs for social infrastructure projects, private projects and SMEs in Korea. These banks support companies through direct equity investments, although domestic companies generally have access to local funding, as well as to informal and secondary financial markets charging higher interest rates. Debentures are also used as a financing alternate, although slightly more expensive than bank financing. Finally, financing in the form of long-term debt is available from the Korea Development Bank (KDB), but generally for high priority industries.

In January 2015, the state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM) announced that it will provide a total of KRW 56 trillion (USD 51 billion) in loans/investment and KRW 24 trillion (USD 22 billion) in loan guarantees to finance industrial activities and international development projects involving Korean companies amid a diminishing quantitative easing trend in USA and continuous depreciation of JPY. It will first finance large projects overseas related to engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), and the amount would be KRW 27.5 trillion (USD 25 billion). The total financing support increased five percent from the USD 69 billion executed in the previous year. It also set aside KRW 26.5 trillion (USD 24 billion) for SMEs to promote shared growth between large and small enterprises and which is same amount compared with previous year.

Web Resources

Bank of Korea: http://eng.bok.or.kr/

Commercial Service / International Company Profile (ICP) http://www.export.gov/southkorea/servicesforuscompanies/icp/index.asp

Country Limitation Schedule: http://www.exim.gov/tools-for-exporters/country-limitation-schedule

Dun and Bradstreet: https://www.dnb.com/product/contract.htm

Export-Import Bank of Korea: https://www.koreaexim.go.kr/site/main/index002

Financial Supervisory Commission: http://www.fsc.go.kr/eng/

Financial Supervisory Service: http://english.fss.or.kr/fss/en/main.jsp

Korea Investors Service: www.kisrating.com/eng/

Korean Appraisal Board: http://www.kab.co.kr/kab/home/eng/index.jsp

Korean Commercial Arbitration Board: www.kcab.or.kr/jsp/kcab_eng/index.jsp

KORUS FTA – Financial Services: http://www.uskoreacouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Financial-Services-and-the-U.S.-Korea-FTA.pdf

National Agricultural Cooperative Federation: http://www.fsc.go.kr/eng/rl/list.jsp?menu=01&bbsid=BBS0060 and http://www.nonghyup.com/eng/main/main.aspx

OPIC: http://www.opic.gov

Overseas Private Investment Corporation Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of International Trade: http://www.sba.gov/oit/

Trade and Development Agency: http://www.ustda.gov/

U.S. Agency for International Development: http://www.usaid.gov

USDA Commodity Credit Corporation: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/about-fsa/structure-and-organization/commodity-credit-corporation/index

Export-Import Bank of the United States: http://www.exim.gov

Country Limitation Schedule: http://www.exim.gov/tools-for-exporters/country-limitation-schedule

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