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Hanwha boasts highest number of overseas units among chaebol rivals

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : Aug. 8, 2023 - 15:54

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Defense-to-energy giant Hanwha Group operates the largest number of overseas units among the nation’s top chaebol groups, with the figure surging from last year’s 102 to 739 this year, according to a recent report by corporate tracker Korea CXO Institute on Tuesday.

Hanwha, the nation’s seventh-largest conglomerate, outpaced its bigger rivals such as Samsung, SK and Hyundai Motor. In particular, the number of affiliates in the US jumped by 45 to 241, while those in Spain increased by 22 to 105.

SK Group, the nation’s second-largest conglomerate, was running a total of 598 overseas units, up by 57 from a year earlier.

Samsung, the nation’s No. 1 conglomerate, fell to third place to operate 566 overseas units.

Over the past five years, Samsung has gradually shut down affiliates around the world. Between 2018 and 2023, the number of Chinese units was reduced by 22 to 65, while the UK figure also decreased by 15 to 32 following Brexit in 2020.

Hyundai Motor Group, the nation’s third-largest conglomerate, came in third with 410 units overseas this year, a drop by 15 compared to 2022.

According to the report based on regulatory filings submitted to the Fair Trade Commission, the nation’s 82 companies with more than 5 trillion won ($3.8 billion) in assets were operating a combined 5,686 overseas units in 129 countries this year. The figure was larger than their 3,076 affiliates operated in Korea.

By country, the largest 1,321 units were located in the US, taking up 23.2 percent of the total. China, including Hong Kong, remained at No. 2 as their overseas destination but its share slightly decreased from last year’s 15.9 percent to 14.9 percent this year.

The discrepancy in the number of foreign affiliates operating in the US and China has widened from 175 in 2022 to 322 this year. The report said despite the strategic importance of China, Korean companies’ preference for the country seems to be fading.

Two years ago, China was the most preferred country for Korea’s affiliates overseas, when it had outpaced the US with 152 more foreign units.

In Vietnam, there were 299 foreign bases from Korea this year, adding 31 more affiliates from a year earlier. The report explained Korean companies are considering Vietnam as one of the strategic hubs to target the Southeast Asian market production bases as well as a key production base.

Korean companies operated 210 affiliates in Japan, followed by France, Indonesia, India and Spain.

There were 107 units set up in the so-called tax haven countries, including Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Marshall Islands. Another 666 were located in Luxembourg and Labuan in Malaysia, which are preferred by companies seeking for tax avoidance.

“It is optimistic that local companies are running many foreign affiliates, foraying into global markets. But setting up factories and companies abroad could mean fewer job opportunities for Korean people,” said Oh Il-sun, head of Korea CXO Institute, in a statement.