[INTERVIEW] KEZAD Korea head vows to solidify business partnership between Korea, UAE

Lee Yoon-suk, KEZAD representative to the Korean market, speaks during the UAE Business Forum with KEZAD held under The Korea Times Global Business Club at FKI Tower in central Seoul, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Lee Yoon-suk, KEZAD representative to the Korean market, speaks during the UAE Business Forum with KEZAD held under The Korea Times Global Business Club at FKI Tower in central Seoul, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Ko Dong-hwan

Khalifa Economic Zone Abu Dhabi (KEZAD) Group, the biggest operator of fully integrated economic cities, ports and business services in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), wants to broaden its partnership with Seoul and is now searching for communicative channels that can connect critical needs from both ends, according to the head of the group’s Korean office, Tuesday.

Lee Yoon-suk, KEZAD representative to the Korean market, said in his recent interview with The Korea Times that representatives of the Abu Dhabi-based group have arrived in Seoul to meet their counterparts from government bodies and state or private companies here in order to form new business partnerships. Korean companies in the fields of food, smart farms, cosmetics, logistics and manufacturing as well as government agencies under the city governments of Seoul, Busan and Daegu were among the key groups the envoys wanted to meet, he added.

KEZAD Group, a subsidiary of AD Ports Group, an exclusive developer and regulator of ports and related infrastructure in Abu Dhabi, offers business solutions to foreign companies by providing strategic market access via transportation and low operating costs. Korean companies in the metal, automobile, food, agricultural technology, life science, oil and gas sectors are among 17 key industrial sectors served by KEZAD Group.

Lee said that for a bilateral partnership to succeed, an effective bridge must be present. The importance of this role has recently risen regarding the Middle East. Thanks to the region’s lucrative oil resources and the will of regional states to take advantage of those resources, the region has now become a global business hotspot.

However, he said that he has seen many cases where Korean companies failed when trying to expand into the region since they didn’t fully understand the intricacies of the market there.

“They simply weren’t prepared enough,” Lee said in the interview ahead of the UAE-KEZAD Business Forum held under Global Business Club jointly hosted by The Korea Times and the UAE Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday. “There are people on social media who claim to be experts in the Middle East but turn out to be a flop. These are the signs that discourage Korean firms from investing in the Middle East.”

Lee claims to be a true expert in Arab culture and business. Before taking charge of KEZAD Group’s Korean office in 2021, he spent 10 years living and working in the region. He first worked for Kumho Tire as an overseas official in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Ending his corporate career, he became an entrepreneur selling consumer and industrial products to local home shopping channels.

Lee has accumulated years of experience and now gives talks to the Korean government and major companies on the region’s unique business environment and how to conduct business there. One of his main weapons now is his network in the local public and private sectors of Abu Dhabi, which has helped to familiarize him with the local business environment.

“A strict top-down ordering system exists in all Arab countries. This requires companies from outside the region to carefully plan how to approach their target country in the region,” Lee said. According to his five steps to business ventures in the Middle East, the first step is to clearly understand the target areas in terms of religion, ethnicity, statecraft and economic structure.

“As one of a few Korean Middle East experts, I’ll keep to my current post and try to bridge Korean government agencies and firms to trustworthy UAE counterparts like KEZAD. I would like to see some win-win situations between the two countries,” he added.

KEZAD Group operates infrastructure and services across 12 designated economic zones in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain cities and the Al Dhafra region. The group’s presence covers a total area of 550 square kilometers throughout the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The group also services more than 40 staff accommodation complexes, which are branded under its subsidiary business KEZAD Communities.


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