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PM push to Posco in Park company

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hyderabad house in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Jan. 16: The much-delayed $12-billion Posco steel project is set to become operational in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated after a meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye here today.

The Prime Minister, who announced that India would grant visa-on-arrival to Koreans, also hinted that the two leaders had discussed the possibility of setting up a Korean industrial park in India.

“I am very happy that the large-scale Posco steel project in Odisha is set to be operational in the coming weeks, following the revalidation of its environmental clearance,” Singh said, adding that “grant of mining concession for the project is also at an advanced stage of processing”.

Earlier last week, the Centre had granted environmental clearance to the Posco steel plant. The mining licence, which is expected later this month, is the last stage hurdle for Posco and was delayed for long as environmentalists and opponents challenged land use.

Officials said they believed Posco would start work on their plant within weeks of the mining licence being given. A 12.5km long boundary wall for the plant is already being built.

The Posco plant, once built, will represent the largest single foreign investment in the country and all ministries concerned were being pushed by the Prime Minister’s Office to expedite clearances for it.

Prime Minister Singh was believed to be personally keen that the project gets off the ground because it is the single largest FDI proposal India has attracted till date and also addresses India’s interest to engage Korea as part of its ‘Look East’ policy.

The policy calls for a refocus of Indian strategic and trade ties towards the South East and eastern Asia, instead of its traditional European-American centric policies.

In recent years, the need to build an east Asia economic block where China’s rise can be balanced, besides the emergence of conflict flashpoints in the South China seas, has also seen Japan and South Korea seeking closer relations with India.

The two leaders signed five pacts, including in the areas of defence and space, and discussed “expansion and enhancement of strategic partnership between the two countries in the coming years”.

“Korean businesses were in the vanguard of the discovery of India unleashed by our structural reforms in the early 1990s. Today, as a result of further reforms, India offers greater avenues and opportunities for them,” Singh pointed out.

“We have been exploring the possibility of establishing a Korean industrial park in India,” the prime minister added.

He also said that the two sides had also agreed to set up a CEOs forum comprising captains of industry and commerce from both countries to provide new ideas for deepening economic collaboration between the two nations.

Korean industry, like Japanese industrial houses, had set up manufacturing bases in China through the 1980s to 2000s. However, with wages and costs going up, it was looking at setting up new bases elsewhere. India being a large market with good transport links with Africa and central Asia is being viewed by many as an alternative manufacturing base.

“Korean tourists are visiting India in increasing numbers. I conveyed to President Park the decision of the Government of India to extend a ‘tourist visa on arrival facility’ to nationals of the Republic of Korea,” Singh also said.

The Prime Minister added: “We are also exploring the possibility of better civil aviation links.”