(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more details, information throughout)
By Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in promised equal treatment for foreign invested companies and local firms Thursday, while vowing efforts to ensure joint development of foreign companies and his country.
"Even foreign companies, when they invest in our country, become our companies that contribute to our economic development. Your success means our development," the president said in a rare meeting with foreign investors.
The meeting at Moon's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul was attended by officials and representatives from 56 foreign invested firms and nine business organizations, such as the American and European chambers of commerce.
Thursday's meeting was the first of its kind since Moon took office in may 2017.
The president acknowledged the importance of foreign invested firms to his country, noting they account for 19 percent of South Korea's overall exports, as well as 7 percent of all jobs here.
"Over 18,000 foreign invested firms created jobs for 740,000 people in the country. The government and local autonomous bodies will provide active support so that your investment and exemplary (employment) cases may continue," he told the meeting.
Foreign direct investment pledged to South Korea reached a record high of US$26.9 billion last year, spiking 17.2 percent from a year earlier, while the amount that arrived here climbed to a new high of $17 billion.
Moon appealed for more.
"South Korea is a very attractive place to invest. First, the South Korean economy's foundation is strong," the president said, adding the country's outbound shipments breached the $600 billion mark for the first time in 2018 to make it the world's sixth-largest exporter.
"Our economy's integrity has further strengthened, with its trade balance posting a surplus for 10 consecutive years and its foreign reserve also breaching the $400 billion mark for the first time," he said.
The president also highlighted the country's openness, citing its bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements with 52 countries that together account for 77 percent of the world's gross domestic product.
Moon insisted his country will only become more attractive to foreign investors when North Korea finally gives up its nuclear ambition.
The South Korean president has held three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, leading to a military agreement signed at their latest summit, held in Pyongyang in September, under which the countries agreed to never use military force against each other.
"Following the inter-Korean summits last year, the geopolitical risks have also dwindled significantly," he told the meeting.
Moon promised increased support for foreign invested firms.
"South Korea's key strategy to attract foreign investment is to support your success in South Korea," said the president.
"The South Korean economy has developed together with foreign invested firms and will continue to do so in the future. Our success will be a great support for South Korea's economic development and the South Korean economy's development will open more business opportunities for you all," he added.
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