South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Selling to the Public Sector

Describes how major projects are secured and financed. Explains activities of the multilateral development banks in and other aid-funded projects. 

Last published date: 2020-09-21

Selling to the Government

Korea is an established member of the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agency (GPA) protocols, with non-discriminatory government procurement procedures.

Korea’s GPA commitments include:

  • “Threshold” amounts by certain Korean government agencies and provincial authorities;
  • Procurement commitments in the services and construction industries;
  • A prohibition against offsets as a condition for awarding contracts;
  • A provision allowing suppliers to pursue alleged violations through GPA-defined bid challenge procedures;
  • Annexes specifying certain thresholds below which GPA rules do not apply (approximately $180,000 and, for construction services, approximately $7 million); and
  • Korea is exempted from GPA coverage for items related to national security and defense, procurement of satellites, and purchases of certain types of electrical transmission and distribution equipment by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).

U.S. companies interested in Korean government procurement must work with Korea’s Public Procurement Service (PPS). It is highly recommended that U.S. firms maintain a reputable representative or agent in-country to carefully monitor PPS tender opportunities. Consult: http://www.pps.go.kr/eng/index.do.

PPS supports domestic/indigenous equipment and supplies. It is also responsible for the purchase of goods and incidental services required by central and sub-central government entities, government construction contracts and the stockpiling of raw materials. There are nine provinces in Korea, seven metropolitan cities, as well as numerous ‘new cities’ (Sejong City, Songdo City, and Hwaseong Dongtan, to name a few).

Bidders must register with PPS at least one business day prior to the date of an opening bid. Foreign bidders can register with PPS (Korean language only) prior to entering into a contract. Failure to register constitutes cause for rejection of a bid.

Korea has launched its Korea On-line E-Procurement System (KONEPS) at www.g2b.go.kr. In part, this system includes:

  • A single window for public procurement, showing the entire process
  • Bids which are valid for at least 45 days
  • Bids must be published with a summary in English, including the subject matter of the contract, the deadline for submission of tender, and the address and contact point from which full documents relating to the contract may be obtained
  • The complete procurement process, with specifications and requirements (Note: Biases against imported products and services are rarely overt; if they occur, these should be brought to the attention of the U.S. Commercial Service in Korea).

The KORUS FTA, in effect since March 15, 2012, has a chapter devoted to government procurement. Consult: http://www.ustr.gov/.

U.S. companies bidding on Government tenders may also qualify for U.S. Government advocacy. A unit of the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, the Advocacy Center coordinates U.S. Government interagency advocacy efforts on behalf of U.S. exporters bidding on public sector contracts with international governments and government agencies. The Advocacy Center works closely with our network of the U.S. Commercial Service worldwide and inter-agency partners to ensure that exporters of U.S. products and services have the best possible chance of winning government contracts. Advocacy assistance can take many forms but often involves the U.S. Embassy or other U.S. Government agencies expressing support for the U.S. bidders directly to the foreign government. Consult Advocacy Center on Foreign Government Contracts and for additional information.

Defense Procurement

Defense procurement is an active part of CS Korea’s portfolio. U.S. companies which sell both to foreign and U.S. military should be cognizant of the importance given to military procurement on the Korean peninsula.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA: http://www.dapa.go.kr/mbshome/mbs/dapa_eng/) is responsible for Korean defense procurement and was established to ensure transparency in the process. 

ROK defense products/equipment are acquired through a sophisticated and mature procurement system which includes direct purchase, sales agents, and importer channels. U.S. manufacturers/suppliers of defense equipment should use a well-qualified/vetted Korean agent, familiar with the ROK defense system and knowledgeable of key members of the country’s Air Force (ROKAF), Navy (ROKN), Army (ROKA), and Agency for Defense Development (ADD). CS Korea, through our Gold Key Service program, can assist U.S. defense companies in identifying a potential, well-qualified representative. Former (retired) ROKAF, ROKN, and ROK A officials have good potential as commissioned representatives in Korea. Local representatives must register and be certified by DAPA to supply their products and services to the military end-users.

A well-selected representative will be able to provide their U.S. supplier/manufacturer with information about the status of defense bids and procurement plans. This is a very mature defense community. Thus, U.S. defense suppliers should only consider this market if they have a proven track record in the U.S. and/or in other Tier I countries.

Companies wanting to supply their products/systems to Korea’s military are required to register with DAPA; this is a ten-day process. For more information on the registration and bidding process, refer to DAPA’s procurement portal:  https://www.dapa.go.kr.

Financing of Projects

Project financing (PF) is designed to facilitate funding of large-scale projects. The concept was first introduced in Korea to finance a highway construction project between Seoul and the Incheon International Airport. The government’s decision to introduce this financing technique was prompted by the need to boost domestic demand by stimulating investments in large-scale projects, including housing construction and social infrastructure facilities.

Most of Korea’s social overhead capital (SOC) projects are funded through PF. PF is also used for the financing of private sector projects, to include real estate development and buy-outs of financially troubled companies.  Several Korean and foreign banks provide PF and offer venture capital investment programs for social infrastructure projects, private projects and SMEs in Korea. These banks support companies through direct equity investments, although domestic companies generally have access to local funding, as well as to informal and secondary financial markets charging higher interest rates. Debentures are also used as a financing alternate, although slightly more expensive than bank financing. Finally, financing in the form of long-term debt is available from the Korea Development Bank (KDB), but generally for high priority industries.

The state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM) finances overseas projects where Korean companies participate in a consortium and typically undertake the entire process from construction to operation of the project. In 2018, KEXIM provided $1.15 billion for an LNG import terminal project in Kuwait, $600 million for a mega-scale investment development project in Turkey, $367 million for a refinery modernization project in Bahrain, EUR 243 million for Korean subway trains in Egypt, $200 million for a Peruvian copper mine project, $173 million for a new Cebu international port project, and $88.5 million to build a national oncology center in Senegal.