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Does Institutional Quality Matter to Korean Outward FDI? A Gravity Model Analysis
Published December 28, 2022
Publication Source: KIEP
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According to Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy (currently the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy), foreign investment has now become one of the major economic pillars driving the Korean economy over the past 15 years (Tang 2022). The Korean economy started to open up to rest of the world following the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and was the biggest FDI policy reformer among 40 developed and emerging economies over the period from 1997 to 2010 (Nicolas et al. 2013). Over the last decade, Korea’s outward FDI grew much faster than inward FDI (See Figure 1) and Korea is now a net capital exporter to the world. In 2021, Korea’s outward FDI flows totaled $76.64 billion and a total of 2323 Korean enterprises invested in overseas countries (Korea EXIM Bank 2022). Due to this increased amount of outward FDI, a large number of studies (Kim and Rhee 2009; Park and Jung 2020) investigated what determines Korea’s outward FDI (OFDI).
Institutional quality is found to be a major determinant in FDI literature in general. It suggests that political risk (lack of/poor institutional quality) not only deters FDI inflows to host countries but also can lead FDI to countries with higher risks and to ‘pollution heaven’ which might have an adverse impact on long term growth and development in both host and home countries. There are strong empirical evidences in literature that lack of institutional quality or good governance is associated with lower FDI inflows. An extensive literature (Alfaro et al. 2008; Ali et al. 2010; Akhtaruzzaman et al. 2017; Bénassy‐Quéré et al. 2007) investigated FDI response to various types of institutional quality in FDI host countries. Over the last 20 years data evidenced that Korea’s OFDI flowed to developing countries with a sustained large gap existing in institutional quality between host countries and Korea (See, Fig 2 top panel); however; those countries had been offering a higher degree of capital account openness. A sharp increase in capital account openness since the early 2000s coincides with sharp increase in Korea’s OFDI to those host countries. For example, Peru was the least open economy and started to initiate measures to open capital account since the mid-90s and early 2000s. The degree of openness in Peru is now similar to that of developed countries. On the other hand, Peru is one of the least progressed countries in terms of institutional quality over the same period of time. This slow or no progress in institutional quality is a common pattern of institutional improvement for a large sample of host countries of Korea’s OFDI (see, Figure 2). However, those developing countries including Peru are regular destinations of a substantial amount of Korea’s OFDI. Does this suggest that institutional quality of host country does not matter to Korean investors, or is there a 3rd factor mitigating the impact of institutional quality on Korea’s OFDI? Few studies on Korea’s OFDI considered institutional quality of host country as a control variable instead of main determinant of FDI (Park and Jung 2020). However, existing studies do not explain why Korea’s OFDI flowed to countries with a large gap in institutional quality between Korea and host countries. This research fills the gap in the literature of Korea’s OFDI. The findings of this research suggest that high degree of capital account openness (a factor that ensures profit repatriation of investors) weakened the negative impact of poor institutional quality in host countries on Korea’s OFDI.
The remaining of this paper is organised as follows. Section II reviews relevant literature of FDI and identifies major determinants for Korea’s OFDI from existing studies; Section III discusses research method and empirical issues; Section IV presents the research findings; Section V concludes the research, points to the research limitations, and provides policy recommendations.

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