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Corporate Korea explores new opportunities in Expo bid

Business leaders met with more than 3,000 officials from 175 countries

Nov. 29, 2023 - 17:48 By Jo He-rim
SK Chairman Chey Tae-won raises his crutch decorated with a promotional image for Busan’s Expo bid as he speaks at a business forum on Jeju Island on July 12. (Yonhap)

Despite Busan’s disappointing loss in its bid to host the 2030 World Expo, Korea's economic circle viewed its rallying efforts in the past year and a half as having "expanded the horizon" for companies with new opportunities in the global market.

Saudi Arabia's Riyadh was chosen to host the World Expo in 2030 on Tuesday, garnering 119 votes out of 165 in a secret ballot held during the Bureau International des Expositions general assembly in Paris. Busan and Rome were knocked out in the first round of voting, with 29 and 17 votes, respectively.

Korean business leaders joined hands to launch the Busan World Expo 2030 bidding committee for the private sector in July 2022. SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who doubles as the chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, took on the role of co-chair alongside Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

"The united efforts of the people have not only raised Korea's national competitiveness to the next level, but also expanded the global horizon for the country's industries," the KCCI said in a statement.

"Countries were eager to partner with South Korea, which has a diverse industrial portfolio encompassing consumer goods and advanced technology to future energy solutions."

From July 2022 through November 2023, government officials and business leaders are estimated to have circled the Earth a combined 495 times to rally support from BIE members.

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong (center left) and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo (center right) attend a dinner hosted by Michael Mainelli, lord mayor of the City of London, at Guildhall in London on Nov. 22. (Yonhap)

The KCCI said Korean business leaders met with more than 3,000 heads of state, ministers and other officials from 175 countries as part of the canvassing effort, with 52 percent of all activities carried out by company presidents and CEOs, since June last year.

In the rallying process, Korean companies gained significant benefits from raising their brand awareness in global markets -- getting access to new markets and business opportunities -- and diversifying supply chains, the KCCI explained.

"(Korea's) business community will continue to develop the positive feedback we receive from world leaders, and also ideas from the world to create a model for the joint prosperity of South Korea and the global community," the group added.

While South Korea landed second to oil giant Saudi Arabia, it spent the least money among the viable candidates. The Korean government allocated $5.7 billion for its Expo bid campaign, while Italy and Saudi Arabia spent $10.9 billion and $7.8 billion, respectively.

Chiefs of the country's top conglomerates also took part in the joint efforts, accompanying President Yoon Suk Yeol in his state visits to destinations including the UK, the US and France.

As they traveled the world, the leaders undertook campaign efforts and created opportunities to forge new business networks.

Representing Korea's business and industry delegation, Chey, the SK chief, gave the final presentation for Busan along with other government ambassadors, including former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, before voting began Tuesday in Paris.

According to Korea's second-largest conglomerate SK Group, Chey and its executives traveled to over 160 countries meeting with more than 800 high-level officials to woo support for Busan.

Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Chung Euisun (left) talks with a member of a foreign delegation at a banquet in Paris on Oct. 9, the night before a symposium promoting Busan’s Expo bid. (Hyundai Motor Group)

Launching a task force with top executives of the conglomerate in June last year, Chey also established a special office in Paris it named "Maison de Busan." There, he frequently held meetings with ambassadors and government officials linked with the BIE, the World Expo's organizing body, SK Group said.

From January this year, Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong traveled to many countries as part of the presidential delegation, including the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Japan and China. His 22-day US trip in May was also seen as an opportunity for him to strengthen business ties by meeting with government and business officials there.

In a BIE luncheon hosted by the Korean delegation for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on Friday, Lee emphasized Samsung's connection with Busan, recalling his late grandfather Lee Byung-chull's experience.

"Today's Samsung exists because late founder Lee Byung-chull established a sugar factory in Busan, devastated after the Korean War."

Executives of Samsung affiliates, such as Samsung SDI and Samsung Electro-Mechanics, also took part in the canvassing, holding over 600 meetings with officials of 50 countries, Samsung said.

Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun stayed until the end of the voting, solely for the World Expo vote, in Paris with key executives. Traveling some 20 countries including India, Vietnam and Slovakia, Chung also ramped up business ties with local businesses in the rallying process.

Hyundai Motor, a leading electric vehicle manufacturer, provided its EVs, including the Ioniq 5 and GV60, as escort cars for BIE events and summits, while highlighting Busan as a city dedicated to achieving net-zero emissions.

As one of the most active automakers seeking to achieve vehicle automation, Hyundai also utilized the campaign to reach out to countries that have not fully begun the automation transformation to set up charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo rearranged his plans for business meetings and a company reshuffle to travel to Paris to add support to the delegation's last-ditch efforts before the final vote took place.

The chief of the country's fourth-largest conglomerate was among the members of the presidential delegation. Koo reportedly took charge of Africa, among other regions.

Other chaebol leaders, including Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan, HD Hyundai Vice Chairman Chung Ki-sun and GS Group Chairman Huh Tae-soo, also joined forces to woo support for Busan's Expo bid as they traveled the world.