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EXCLUSIVE: South Korea plans for a big boating future

GYEONGGI PROVINCE, South Korea - Imagine state and federal governments in the U.S. announcing plans to invest in the marine industry by building dozens of new marinas, enacting legislation to make boat ownership easier, offering incentives for foreign and domestic companies to become tenants in a marine industrial park, and investing billions in a dredging project to create a canal linking a major city to the coast.

That's precisely what's happening in South Korea, as local and federal government officials make good on a plan that began in 2005 to foster the country's recreational marine industry.

"Korea is providing active support to promote the marine leisure equipment industry as a new growth engine," Seong Chil Kim, a manager with the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, which is heading up these initiatives, told attendees at the 2010 Asian Marine Conference. The two-day conference began today in conjunction with the Korea International Boat Show, which runs through Sunday.

"We are expecting a rapid growth of the industry," he said. "It's a new and promising industry. We are making multilevel efforts to really promote the industry."

Kim used the passage of the Clean Boating Act of 2008 to compare the U.S. government's support for the marine industry to his country's projects. While the legislation was hailed as a success for the U.S. industry, it was proposed to fix an unintended byproduct of a reporting requirement for commercial vessels, not to actively help the industry.

South Korea is No. 1 in the world in shipbuilding and it's time to take that knowledge and apply it to the recreational marine industry, said Jong Gye Shin, a professor at Seoul National University who is involved in many marine-industry-related groups and projects.

The three elements needed to create a successful marine industry are infrastructure, tourism and cultural activities. Marine manufacturers, as well as local and central governments, are working on all of them simultaneously, Shin said.

The recreational boating industry in South Korea is in its infancy, with just 20 boatbuilders, compared to 1,305 shipbuilding companies. According to Shin, there are 35 companies that sell boats and engines, and 350 other marine-related companies, most of which are service providers for fishing and diving.

Of the country's "registered ocean leisure equipment," 7,518 are "rafting boats," 1,174 are powerboats and 30 are yachts.

Shin admitted that changing people's mindset may be one of the more difficult aspects of the plan. He said people ask him why "do yachting - you can just do fishing."

His answer: "You just love the feeling you experience on the ocean by riding in a boat."

"We need to create demand," Shin said. "We need to create opportunities to get people on the water."

Editor's note: Trade Only's Beth Rosenberg will be reporting from the Korea International Boat Show for the rest of the week, with daily dispatches in the newsletter. Look for a comprehensive report in the August issue of Trade Only.

— Beth Rosenberg


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