February 21, 2018 / 2:44 AM / 4 months ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 3-GM proposes $2.8 bln, 10-yr investment in S.Korea - govt official

(Corrects wording in trade minister’s quote in paragraph 6)

* Investment would be on top of over $2.2 bln debt-for-equity swap

* No.2 shareholder KDB asked to contribute around $476 mln

* Govt says audit of “opaque” GM Korea needed first

By shinhyung lee and Ju-min Park

SEOUL, Feb 21 (Reuters) - General Motors has proposed investing $2.8 billion into its loss-making South Korean operations over the next 10 years and has asked Seoul to provide funds for the investment, a South Korean government official said on Wednesday.

Last week, the U.S. automaker announced it would shut down a factory in Gunsan, southwest of Seoul, and said it was mulling the fate of its three remaining plants in South Korea.

The proposal is on top of a more than $2.2 billion debt-for-equity swap GM is offering to get financial support and tax benefits from Seoul. Reuters reported the details of that part of the plan on Tuesday.

The official with direct knowledge of the matter said GM had asked South Korea to inject funds into GM Korea through state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB), which holds a 17 percent stake in the unit. On that basis, KDB would provide around $476 million in investment.

South Korea’s trade minister told parliament the government had first asked for an audit into GM’s “opaque” operations in the country, which directly employ some 16,000 workers.

“By opaque we mean the high cost of goods, interest payments regarding loans and unfair financial support made to GM’s headquarters,” said Paik Un-gyu.

Paik said the South Korean government needed reassurance from GM on its long-term commitment in the country before it would commit funds.

GM Korea did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

MOUNTING LOSSES

The head of GM Korea’s union said workers will go on a full strike if the U.S. automaker decides to completely pull out of the country.

For now, the 14,000-member union will focus on putting pressure on GM to come up with a concrete turnaround plan, Lim Han-taek, said in an interview.

Lim said the union will discuss a full strike and other options at a meeting on Thursday.

“We don’t want to go as far as a full strike,” he said, citing negative public views of South Korea’s auto unions.

“But if GM says it will completely withdraw from South Korea, we will down our tools.”

GM’s decision to close it Gunsan plant was the latest in a series of steps it has made to put profitability and innovation ahead of sales and volume.

Since 2015, GM has exited unprofitable markets including Europe, South Africa and Russia.

GM laid out a plan to invest around 3 trillion won in South Korea and said KDB, the second biggest shareholder, should provide about one sixth of the total, Lim told Reuters.

A South Korean lawmaker earlier confirmed GM had put forward a proposal including the investment plan and the debt-to-equity swap.

In return, GM requested South Korea take part in financing the investment and raising capital, according to a statement by Jung You-sub, the lawmaker from Bupyeong, where GM runs its biggest factory in South Korea.

On Tuesday, Barry Engle, head of GM’s international operations, met with a government-appointed task force in Bupyeong and told reporters the company wanted to stay in South Korea.

Engle has asked for a meeting on Thursday with the trade minister, Paik told lawmakers.

KDB has said the automaker has not shared sufficient information about its finances or the cause of its mounting losses, according to officials from the bank and government officials.

South Korea was for years a low-cost export hub for GM, producing close to a fifth of its global output at its peak.

But the automaker’s decision to exit other unprofitable markets have exacerbated problems for GM Korea, which used to build many of the Chevrolet models GM once offered in Europe.

GM Korea posted a total of 1.9 trillion won in net losses between 2014 and 2016. (Reporting by Shinhyung Lee, Ju-Min Park and Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by Christine Kim and Heekyong Yang; Writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast)

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