Friday, September 11, 2009

Interview: Minister of Strategy & Finance Yoon Jeung-hyun

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance (MOSF) was established in March 2008 when the Ministry of Finance and Economy and the Ministry of Planning and Budget were merged to establish fair tax systems and efficient fiscal/economic policies. As the ministry that oversees the daily economics of the public, it is committed to the advancement of the domestic economy and establishment of growth dynamics through effective policy coordination, fair tax systems, public enterprise reform, systematic distribution of national resources, efficient budget management and active international cooperation. Playing a pivotal role in the Korean economy, the MOSF has to lead the way in the recovery from the current economic difficulties.
I interviewed Minister Yoon to find out his priorities.
The following are excerpts:

The fundamentals of Korea's economy are sound compared to other economies. Korea's financial sector is relatively healthy and measures for bank nationalization have not been taken. The nation holds sufficient foreign reserves and external debt structure is improving since September, 2008. As of the end of June 2009, Korea holds $ 231.7 billion, equivalent to the amount of current payment for 7.4 months, exceeding $ 185.8 billion of current foreign debt (as of the end of the 1st quarter of ‘09). External debt has also decreased from $ 422.5 billion in Sept. '08 to $ 380.1 billion in March '09. Plus, Korea is more fiscally sound than major economies.
At the same time, the Korean government is carrying out corporate restructuring in the public and the private sectors to address remaining unsoundness and inefficiency. It is too early to tell when the Korean economy will make a full recovery as uncertainty remains high. But we predict that the economy will grow further from previous quarter in the second half of this year and post growth rate close to the potential growth rate next year.
Although the Korean economy is projected to grow in the second half of this year, uncertainty remains high. There is a possibility that international financial market could slip into instability again and fiscal space could shrink along with exchange rate and oil price volatility and H1N1 pandemic. Under these circumstances, the Korean government is committed to making every effort to keep robust growth in the second half of this year.
First, until the economy makes a visible recovery, the government will maintain its expansionary macroeconomic stance while aggressively responding to negative factors such as real estate market.
Second, to secure a steady economic recovery driven by the private sector, the Korean government will continue to stimulate private consumption and investment.
Currently, we are exerting strenuous efforts to promote the domestic tourism market, draw more inward tourists, improve business environment and boost investment in R&D and new growth engines.
Third, for job security, Korea is doing its part to raise effectiveness of job policies including job creation in the service industry, start-up promotion and manpower training to meet industry demand.
Fourth, to ease the burden on low-income earners and small business owners who are hit hardest by the economic recession, the Korean government will continuously support them.
Although we experienced economic downturn in the 4th quarter of last year due to the global economic crisis, the economy is now bouncing back faster than other countries. Once recording negative growth in the fourth quarter of last year, Korea's economic growth turned positive in the first quarter of this year. Further, the economy increased 2.6% from previous quarter in the second quarter of this year. However, it is the government driving the economic growth through expansionary fiscal and easy monetary policies, while consumption and investment in the private sector remain sluggish.
The government will maintain its expansionary macroeconomic stance for a while, but private consumption and investment will be the key to steady economic growth. And I think this applies to other countries around the globe, too.
Therefore, to stimulate private consumption and investment, the government will create more jobs, support people's livelihoods, improve business environment and streamline regulations.
With foreign investment facilitation high on the agenda, the Korean government is establishing and carrying out measures needed to achieve the agenda. The aim is threefold: to improve investment environment, to upgrade incentive systems and to strategically draw foreign investment. First, to improve investment environment, Korea will foster a pro-business environment and provide more comfortable living conditions for foreign investors.
Currently, the government is implementing "3-Year Plan for Foreign Investment ('08~'10)," which is aimed at easing regulations on land use, adjusting the taxation system to the global standards and building more schools and clinics for foreigners.
Second, for foreign investors to use them more effectively and efficiently, we will upgrade existing three key incentive systems (e.g. tax cuts and exemption, financial benefit and support for land use).
Third, to strategically draw foreign investment, we will focus on industries such as high-value added industries including green growth industry and new growth engines.