By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd said it will open its first U.S. appliances plant in more than three decades, a politically pleasing investment ahead of South Korean leader Moon Jae-in’s two-day summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The $380 million plant in Newberry County, South Carolina, will produce washing machines and other appliances from early next year and create nearly 1,000 jobs by 2020, the South Korean tech giant said.
The move, the latest in a long line of global companies reacting to pressure from Trump to create more U.S. jobs, has prompted expressions of goodwill between the two nations ahead of the visit.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday called the investment “great news”, while Trump himself tweeted in February after Samsung said it was considering such an investment: “Thank you, @Samsung! We would love to have you!”.
But Moon, who will be accompanied by more than 50 South Korean business leaders, is also expected to face pressure to address his country’s large trade surplus with the United States.
Samsung’s investment news was followed up by a statement from South Korea’s biggest business lobby that 52 companies plan to invest a total of $12.8 billion in the United States over the next five years.
Much of that has already been previously announced and it was not immediately clear how much was new.
Samsung is the biggest manufacturer of large appliances in the United States with market share of around 19 percent, according to researcher Traqline. But it hasn’t had a U.S. appliances plant since the early 1990s when it closed a TV factory.
The investment falls into line with Samsung’s strategy of boosting high-end home appliance product sales in the United States. Last year it acquired U.S.-based luxury appliances maker Dacor Inc.
It may also give Samsung more flexibility in production decisions as it grapples with a complaint by Whirlpool Corp. Its rival has asked a U.S. government trade panel for stronger protections against imported washing machines made by Samsung and LG Electronics.
Whirlpool argues the South Korean firms have skirted Commerce Department anti-dumping orders for years by shifting production to various countries. A decision on its petition is expected in September.
Samsung’s new plant will allow it to increase its speed of delivery to customers for appliances “that reflect the regional preferences of our fastest-growing and most important consumer market,” Samsung Electronics Chief Executive B.K. Yoon said in a statement.
U.S. capital spending plans by other South Korean companies include an announcement by Hyundai Motor and its affiliates in January that they will boost investment by 50 percent to $3.1 billion over five years.
The automaker has also said it may build a new plant there.
LG Electronics Inc said in March it plans to build a $250 million home appliance factory in Tennessee employing 600 workers.
South Korea also plans to purchase $22.4 billion worth of U.S. liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and other U.S. goods, the Korean Chamber of Commerce & Industry said.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Edwina Gibbs)