Incheon Seaport has reformed itself into a competitive international port since Kim Choon-sun, president of Incheon Port Authority (IPA), took office three years ago. As soon as he was assigned to be the head of the port authority, Kim dashed to the central government to secure the budget to give the port enough global competitiveness to attract large container carriers and international cruise passengers. He has succeeded in getting money from the central government and placed his main projects on track, including the construction of an international passenger terminal, depth increase of the seaport, and development of the surrounding area. Last year, he reached his goal to break the two million TEU mark in cargo handling, which he promised at his inauguration. BusinessKorea sat down with him to hear about his achievements and future plans. What follows are some excerpts from the interview with him.
It has been three years since you took office as the President of Incheon Port Authority (IPA). What are the projects you have concentrated on so far?
We have focused on three major projects, that is, the construction of the International Passenger Terminal backed by the government, the increase in the port depth of the Incheon New Port, and the development of the surrounding areas for greater competitiveness.
In the afternoon of my first day as the President, I visited the budget planners of the Ministry of Strategy & Finance to explain the appropriateness of the construction of the International Passenger Terminal, calling for the government to assist in the project. As a result, we could resume construction in Incheon Port, which would have been canceled otherwise due to withdrawal by private-sector investors. Looking backward, the decision was a very important and timely one.
We have also yielded tangible results in the port depthrelated project as well. President Park Geun-hye made an election pledge that she would increase the depth of the access area from 14 meters to 16 meters by investing five billion won in this project. With a depth of 14 meters, the Incheon New Port cannot keep up with the trend of increasing vessel sizes. The global shipbuilding industry is shifting from 8,000 TEU to 10,000 TEU. A depth of 14 meters can handle container carriers of 4,000 TEU or less, which means Incheon Port’s role would be limited to transshipments at best.
The central government will provide more financial resources for the development of the surrounding area, too. This is to ensure equality with the other ports in the country. I hope that at last some positive results will be made available in the near future.
There have been some controversies surrounding the budget allocated for Incheon Port compared to that for the Busan Port. Could you speak about them?
The government is planning to spend 180 billion won [US percent169 million] on Incheon Port this year, which is 98.7 percent of the allocation for Busan Port. The percentage has gone up for the past three years, from 36.9 percent in 2012 and 81.7 percent in 2013.
At the same time, the Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs Port Office, local lawmakers, and the IPA have made great efforts so that five billion won and 30 billion won can be earmarked for the depth augmentation and the passenger terminal, respectively. I believe that these will set the stage for further development of Incheon Port down the road.
What is the outcome of the major projects for last year, and what is your prospect for this year?
In January last year, I promised to break the two million TEU mark in cargo handling volume. The goal was met last year by reaching 2.16 million TEUs. This year, we will strive for 2.3 million TEUs so that our rank in the global port industry can rise from below 60th to at least 50th.
In the long term, we are aiming to reach four million TEUs by 2020 to become the 30th-largest port in the world. I bet we can realize this goal within the given period of time. We are predicting that the overall cargo volume including the bulk and container cargoes will increase 3 percent to 4 percent from a year earlier in 2014.
On the passenger transport side, the number of coastal passengers surpassed one million last year, and that of international and cruise passengers topped one million, too. The upward trend is likely to continue throughout this year to hit three million in or before 2020.
Such successful business outcomes have led to an A rating in the government’s business evaluation of state-run enterprises, which has been the highest rating in the history of the IPA up to this moment. The year 2014 will be a very significant year for the authority, when Incheon Port will turn itself into the transport hub of the West Sea region and the linchpin of maritime tourism representing Northeast Asia.
Please explain your plan for the rest of your tenure, and your long-term development vision for the IPA.
My tenure ends on August 17 this year. To the very final moment, I will keep working on the development of the New Port, the new Passenger Terminal, and the surrounding areas with vigor and vitality. The future of Incheon Port depends on these three projects, and their success will guarantee a rosier future for Incheon City as a whole.
I hope that Incheon New Port will become the starting point of ocean routes leading to not just China but also the entire world. Then, Incheon Port will cover a great number of export destinations, such as Europe and the Americas, as well as China and Southeast Asia. Companies located in Seoul and the metropolitan area will be able to save on transport costs by making use of the port, which will result in greater competitiveness of their products.
In the meantime, the newly opened International Passenger Terminal will provide entrepreneurs and businessmen from all around the world with the opportunity to visit Korea, do business here, and enjoy its culture. The Korean Wave will be further enhanced, and Incheon City’s presence in and contribution to the national economy as a whole will be boosted as well.
I believe that Incheon Port’s contribution to the city’s competitiveness is without limits. The Economist Intelligence Unit published an analysis report last year, titled “Hot Spots: Benchmarking Global City Competitiveness,” to extol Incheon as the home to the world’s finest transport infrastructure. It recognized Incheon Port as a world-class port, adding that top-tier transport infrastructure and the investment in the Incheon Free Economic Zone are turning the city into the business, logistics, tourism, and leisure industry hub of Northeast Asia.
My aim is to dedicate myself to that progress during the rest of my days in office. I will be committed to the development of the surrounding as well, so that both Incheon Port and Incheon City can have greater competitiveness.
You have served as a public official, policy coordinator, and maritime industry expert for a long time. How do you assess your own past career?
I have worked for various government bodies such as the Fair Trade Commission, the Presidential and Prime Minister’s Offices, former Ministry of Finance & Economy, Ministry of Planning & Budget, Ministry of Oceans & Fisheries, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport, etc.
I would like to suggest maritime industry expert and policy coordination specialist as the keywords that can summarize my past 30 years as a public servant. I worked for the Ministry of Oceans & Fisheries, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport, and as the head of the Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs Port Office between 2003 and 2008 to equip myself with professional knowledge and expertise in maritime, port management and transport logistics policy.
In addition, I worked for economic supervisory organizations to have a broad view of the national economy, while accumulating much experience in policy coordination. The processes of economic policy coordination, setting, and decisionmaking have been a great boon for my job as the president of the IPA, too.