By Choi Kyong-ae
Half of foreign companies doing business here will consider either pulling out of Korea or slashing their investments if the government continues to make unfavorable policies and legislation on their operations, according to a poll released Monday.
In a survey of 201 foreign firms on the business environment, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) found 49.8 percent of the respondents will consider reducing operations here if the government continues to legislate anti-business laws.
"The foreign business community has complained of stricter regulations on materials needed for testing at laboratories or to manufacture products at chemical and electronics companies," Kang Seok-gu, director of the KCCI's corporate policy team, said by telephone.
Among others, they pinpointed a recent court ruling on "normal wages" as growing concern because they may be forced to hand over large amounts in back pay, Kang said.
The survey conducted last month showed 55 percent of respondents rated the investment environment in Korea as "bad" and the remaining 45 percent as generally "good." The survey offered the respondents only two categories to choose from.
Eight out of 10 multinational companies said the attractiveness of Korea's investment environment for foreigners has been little changed or has worsened in the past three years, the poll results said.
The survey comes on the heels of the Park Geun-hye government's stimulus plans unveiled last week to attract foreign investment. The programs were designed to give foreign firms bigger tax benefits and an improved atmosphere against uncertainty if they establish their Asian headquarters and research and development centers here.
Foreign business lobbying groups such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea and the European Chamber of Commerce in Korea have pointed to the lack of predictability in economic policies and excessive regulations as major obstacles to investment.
They have also called for greater consultation with the government when rules and regulations are developed or changed to reduce the uncertainty of the business environment.
However, things didn't evolve in favor of their interests last year.
In December, the Supreme Court said regularly-paid bonuses should be included as normal wages, which will push up retirement allowances and other work-related payments for the labor-intensive automobile industry, in particular.
GM Korea, 70 percent-owned by General Motors, has closely watched the wage issue as it may have to pay at least 170 billion won ($160 million) annually in back-pay to its 17,000 workers if the court's ruling is applied to its ongoing lawsuits.
Moreover, the Park government introduced tougher rules to collect more corporate taxes and monitor chemical substances not only for domestic but also for foreign businesses in 2013, the first year of her five-year term that ends in February 2018, Kang said.
The poll noted 53 percent of the respondents expect that rules and regulations recently adopted or under consideration for adoption will likely have a negative impact on efforts to lure foreign capital.
Most of the respondents picked labor-related rules involving the central court's ruling on normal wages and shortened work hours at plants as the biggest worry for their operations going forward, the KCCI said.
상의조사…'절반은 규제입법 계속되면 투자축소 고려'
국내에 진출한 외국계 기업 절반 이상이 한국의 투자환경이 열악하다고 평가했다.
정권이 바뀔 때마다 정책기조가 변해 정책의 일관성이 떨어지고 경제변수 변동성이 크다는 이유다.
대한상공회의소(회장 박용만)는 최근 외국계 기업 201개사를 대상으로 투자환경 인식에 대해 조사한 결과 '국내 투자여건이 열악하다'는 응답이 55.2%로 '여건이 좋다'(44.8%)는 답변보다 많았다고 13일 밝혔다.
최근 3년간 투자매력의 정도 변화를 묻자 '떨어졌다'는 답이 32.9%로 '증가했다'(19.8%)를 웃돌았다. '비슷하다'(47.3%)는 답이 가장 많았다.
투자환경을 부정적으로 평가한 외국계 기업들은 그 이유로 '정책 일관성 부족'(32.5%)을 가장 많이 꼽았다. 그다음 '경제변수의 변동성'(27.0%), '규제수준 과도'(23.4%), '노사갈등과 반기업 정서'(10.8%) 순이었다.
작년과 비교해 올해 외국인 투자규모에 대해서도 '축소될 것'(29.4%)이라는 응답이 '증가할 것'(13.9%)이란 답보다 많았다. '경기회복 불확실'(42.4%)이 가장 큰 이유다.
기업 관련 입법이 미치는 영향을 묻자 부정적 영향을 예상하는 답변이 53.3%에 달했다.
'기업 규제 입법이 지속되면 한국에 대한 투자 축소를 고려할 수 있다'는 기업도 49.8%나 됐다.
가장 부담이 되는 입법으로는 '통상임금, 근로시간 단축 등 노동입법'(35.4%)을 첫손에 꼽았고 이어 '증세 등 조세입법'(28.9%), '영업시간·출점규제 등 유통관련 규제'(11.9%), '공정거래·하도급 규제'(10.4%), '화학물질 등록·평가법(화평법), 화학물질관리법(화관법) 등 환경규제'(10.4%) 순으로 답했다.
기업 규제 입법이 투자환경을 저해하지 않으려면 '글로벌 스탠더드에 맞는 정책 추진'(38.3%)이 요구된다는 견해가 많았다.
외국인 투자유치 증대를 위한 가장 시급한 과제로는 '정책일관성 확보'(36.3%)를 가장 많이 들었다.