Friday, July 8, 2011

Interview: Mr. Kim Young-hwan, Chairman, National Assembly's Knowledge Economy Committee

The Standing Committees of the National Assembly examine bills and petitions falling under their respective jurisdictions, and perform other duties as prescribed by other Acts. There are 16 standing committees of which the Knowledge Economy Committee is quite important. The chairman of each Standing Committee represents the Standing Committee, regulate its proceedings, maintain order, and supervise its affairs.
Mr. Kim Young-hwan, Chairman of the National Assembly's Knowledge Economy Committee was born in Goesan, North Chungcheong Province. Graduating from Yonsei School of Dentistry, he got a master’s degree in economy from the same university. In 1996, he was first elected to enter the National Assembly. He was reelected in 2000 to serve for the second term, yet failed in his third attempt in 2004. In 2009, he was elected.
Under the Kim Dae-jung administration in 2001, he was appointed as the minister for education, science and technology, which he stayed for one year. He was the youngest in the ministry’s history, and was recognized again by his book entitled, “Will fart spark the fire.”
He assumed the chairman of the National Assembly’s Knowledge Economy Committee in 2009, for which he still serves.
In an exclusive interview to Infomag, Mr. Kim speaks on various issues under his mandate.
What is the first and foremost principle of the Knowledge Economy Committee?There are three. The first is laying the foundation for sufficient discussion and communication. We try to create an environment in which committee members can hold in-depth discussions and exchange views. The second is keeping our eyes and ears open. The committee welcomes companies, including small retailers and traders, to express their opinions. We would also like to meet with European business leaders to directly hear from them on challenges and difficulties in doing business in Korea. The third is keeping up to date with the latest industry-related news and issues. For this, we encourage government officials, businessmen and experts to come together and openly discuss issues whenever they arise.
What is your view of the government’s green growth policy?The government is working on meeting the target of reducing CO2 emissions by 20%, such as increasing R&D and encouraging businesses to save energy and increase the use of renewable energy. There are efforts being made to foster green industries (e.g. renewable energy) and develop the carbon capture & storage technology (CCST) to reduce CO2 emissions.
What advice do you have for the government in regards to realizing energy independence?We need to prepare for the post-Fukushima era. However, the government maintains the same energy mix and nuclear energy policy stance as it did prior to the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Unlike Germany and Switzerland which decided to shut down its nuclear power plants, the Korean government seems to have shifted its policy to focus more on nuclear energy. From a personal standpoint, I believe that there needs to be focus on other sources of power generation other than nuclear energy. What is needed is a roadmap for reducing nuclear energy use and concentrating on R&D and business support. Careful and meticulous planning is required as Korea is not abundant in natural resources. The government should aggressively pursue policies aimed at energy saving and renewable energy development.
Do you think the current policy is sufficient to promote small and medium-sized enterprises?In Korea, there are 304 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), accounting for 99.9% of total number of companies, with relevant workers representing 87.7% of total employment. Although SMEs are a pivotal part of the economy, there seems to be a serious imbalance between large-sized companies and SMEs. Polarization is seen amid the turbulent economic environment, in which large companies posted record-high earnings whereas small and medium businesses saw operating margins decline. Moreover, large enterprises are aggressively moving into sectors that are led by SMEs and taking away their source of income. In order for SMEs to strengthen competitiveness, they need to concentrate on five areas: 1) increasing R&D investment 2) limiting sectors to prevent large companies from taking over 3) building infrastructure to foster small and medium-sized export companies 4) recruiting additional workers to address workforce-workplace mismatch 5) supporting one-man businesses and start-ups by young people. A structural system needs to be in place for SMEs to develop into larger and successful businesses. SMEs need strong foundations in order to grow and thus contribute to Korea’s economic growth.
What would you like to tell foreign investors?Korea following the 1997 Asian financial crisis has been striving to improve the foreign investment environment. In 2010, despite the challenging economic climate at home and abroad, Korea achieved economic growth rate of 6.1% (the highest among OECD member countries), exports amounted to $470 billion (seventh largest in the world), and per capita income re-entered the $20,000 level. Foreign investment companies played a key role in Korea overcoming the financial crisis of 1997 and the global financial crisis of 2008.
I consider Korea to be an island rather than a peninsula. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides and bordered to the north by China, Korea has remained an isolated island for thousands of years. It is time to decide whether to remain isolated or move forward. Korea will continue to open its doors to foreign investors going forward. As the chair of the Knowledge Economy Committee, I will also do my best to create a foreign business-friendly environment.