Minister of knowledge Economy Choi Joong-kyung is a veteran finance official who has served in key finance posts in the government and Blue House. He passed the civil service exam in 1978, beginning his career as a finance official. He was appointed vice minister at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance when President Lee took office in February 2008 and pushed a weak won policy to boost the country’s exports during the recent financial crisis. He also held the post of President Lee’s senior secretary for economic affairs.
In an exclusive interview, he speaks about his priorities and plans for this year.
What are your main priorities for this year, and what is your proposed action plan?
Korea posted the world’s seventh-largest export volume in 2010 and overcame the global economic crisis. However, Korea is still responding to changes in the global economic environment, including the emergence of convergence and green industries. Korea also needs to address imbalances between large companies and small and midsize companies.
To ensure the sustainable growth of the Korean economy, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) will nurture industries with significant potential to generate growth and create quality jobs. At the same time, the Ministry will train skilled workers and improve working conditions—for example, with the Quality of Working Life Valley. This project will involve turning outdated industrial complexes into multipurpose facilities that not only serve as workplaces, but also as education centers and cultural spaces. In this way, the government will attract more young people to the fields that most need workers.
In addition, the Ministry will establish a stable supply base for energy and resources in response to international price fluctuations. We will pursue more FTAs to expand Korea’s access to advanced markets. Furthermore, by strengthening industrial cooperation with emerging economies, we will achieve $1 trillion in annual trade.
In the process of implementing these policies, the Ministry will communicate closely with businesses and help them resolve any difficulties they may be facing. We hope foreign investors, who have played such an important role in the Korean economy, will invest more in the future.
How is the Ministry implementing the green growth strategy?
Korea’s green growth policy has two aims: to preserve the natural environment and to help the nation achieve sustainable growth. As of 2007, Korea ranked 38th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, and the economy needs to maintain a steady path of growth.
Korea is a nation with immense growth potential, and the government intends to encourage sustainable economic and employment growth by strengthening its efforts to address climate change. We will do this by improving energy efficiency, advancing the clean energy industries, promoting industrial convergence, and pursuing greater innovation in R&D.
The Framework Act on Low-Carbon, Green Growth was enacted on April 14, 2010. The Act requires the adoption of specific targets for energy efficiency and GHG emissions for different business categories. It also mandates the adoption of a certification program to attract green investment. Both the certification system and the strategy to reach our energy efficiency and GHG emissions targets will be in place before the end of 2011.
Furthermore, the government is making a proactive effort to strengthen the institutional framework for renewable energy and energy conservation measures. By the end of the year we will develop a strategy to enter the overseas renewable energy market and gain a sufficient share of the global market to create an export industry. To prepare for the adoption of the Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2012, the Enforcement Decree of the Act will be revised and a detailed action plan will be in place by the end of June.
What steps are you taking to increase Korea’s self-sufficiency rate in oil and gas resources? Could you tell us about support to local renewable energy test projects?
Korea depends on imports for 96.2 percent of its energy needs (2009). According to the IEA, Korea is the world’s 10th major energy consumer and its No. 9 petroleum consumer (2007). Clearly, energy self-sufficiency is an important goal because fluctuations in international energy prices affect key economic indicators such as the current account balance.
In pursuit of this goal, Korea continually seeks to improve energy efficiency and expand the use of clean energy so that we can cut dependence on fossil fuel to no more than 60 percent. By reducing demand for energy in every category (industry, transport, household, commerce), we will improve energy efficiency by 2.6 percent every year until 2030. By that time, renewable energy will account for 11.5 percent of Korea’s total energy consumption and nuclear energy will account for 27.8 percent. Development of the green industries will transform Korea’s industrial structure into one that is less energy intensive.
The government said it will set aside 700 million won from MKE and an additional 700 million won from the Small and Medium Business Administration to support the Commission of Shared Growth for Large and Small Companies. What other steps are you taking to support SMEs?
Like most countries, Korea has a variety of support policies for small and midsize enterprises (SMEs). These include tax incentives, policy funding support, technology development support and a public procurement program.
The global financial crisis hit SMEs especially hard. Accordingly, the Korean government worked to overcome the financial crisis through pre-emptive measures such as massive injections of liquidity for SMEs (e.g., extending maturity dates for 160 trillion won worth of SME loans; 37 trillion won worth of additional loan guarantees; a higher guarantee rate of up to 100 percent).
Going forward, the government plans to revise its SME support policies to better reflect the needs of the self-employed, small traders and small enterprises and to ensure that SMEs develop and grow into stronger companies. At the same time, the government will adhere to the principles of “support and nurture” and “free competition” to encourage the phased development of promising SMEs into large companies.