Thursday, January 12, 2012

Interview: Mr. Kwon Do-youp, Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs

In May 2011, Mr. Kwon Do-youp was appointed as the Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs (MLTM), prior to which, he was first vice minister in the ministry. The First form of MLTM, named as Mnistry of Transportation, was organized at the time of the establishment of the Korean government on August 15, 1948. Since then the Ministry has been renamed as Ministry of Construction and Ministry of Construction and Transportation and finally was recreated by the Government’s reorganization through merging with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in 2008. Minister Kwon is an expert official on housing affairs who took the head-post of Housing Division and acted as Director General for Housing Affairs in Ministry of Construction and Transport (MCT). He has shown both professionalism and driving force in handling land and housing affairs, and that he is judged the right man to upgrade housing environments through stable supplies of houses and to find new solutions to the various housing problems particularly for low-income people. He started civil service, assuming an officer post in deliberation of New Town Development in the Ministry of Construction (MC), and held several key posts including Land Policy Div. Director General (DG), Housing Div. DG and Public Relation Division DG and assistant VM in MCT. And he finally made the first VM in MLTM. Starting his civil service in construction sector, he is deemed to have acquired deep experiences with transport as president of Korea Expressway Corp., state-run, before he was appointed the first VM of MLTM. As a major in civil engineering and public administration, he is highly praised as a leader of consilience versed in engineering and civil service. Following the earlier merger of other ministries with MLTM, he has done his excellent job as the first VM, so he was deemed as the right man to smoothly address the various pending issues including Four River Development Project, real estates and the move of civil service offices to Sejong City (starting this year). He has been displaying his best ability in sorting out MLTM’s most pressing problems of house shortage and of jumping house rental deposit on the strength of his diverse experiences of 30 years since 1979 in the fields of construction and transport. In an exclusive interview, Minister Kwon speak on his priorities and policy plans.

Could you please tell us your vision and policy directions for the future? Land and ocean have been the foundation for Korea's economic development, but in the future it needs to play a bigger role by being a quality place where a new culture can be created. For this reason, the following three qualities--the quality of land, the quality of its inhabitants, and the quality of the institutions on which the citizens and land are based--need to be harmonized. Going forward, in order to increase the competitiveness of the nation's land and ocean through region-specific development strategies, the following efforts will be made: ● Infrastructure such as road, railway, housing, water resources, and aviation, will be made more effective through expansion and rigorous maintenance, improving the landscape of the nation ● Also, new growth engines in the maritime sector will be cultivated through maritime tour promotion and marine resources development; while, ● Regulations pertinent to land will be streamlined to suit the convenience of the public, providing a more scenic and beautiful land environment to the public. Despite the recent cargo volume increases, the maritime industry is seeing revenue decreases; what are the government's measures to analyze the reasons for this and overcome this problem? The global maritime industry started experiencing a downturn from the second half of 2010 and this continued to 2011, reducing maritime fares. For instance, the BDI (Baltic Dry Index) on Nov. 3 was 1,817p, which is 42% of the five-year average; HRCI (Howe Robinson Container Index) on Nov. 2 was 556p, which is 64% of the five-year average. The cargo volumes, such as dry cargoes and containers, all increased but, the vessels are being oversupplied compared to the cargo volume, causing profitability erosion of maritime companies. The soon-to-be-delivered vessels account for 31%, in the case of container vessels and 41% in the case of dry cargo vessels, of the current number of vessels, respectively. The rapid oil price increase (36% increased year-on-year as of June, 2011) is eroding the profitability of companies by increasing their costs, as the fuel cost takes up 15-20% of the total costs for maritime companies. Due to the advanced countries' economic uncertainty stemming from the sovereign debt crisis of the US and Europe, the cargo volume increase is expected to slow down markedly going forward. As it seems difficult to overcome the maritime industry's economic woes in the short term, focusing on internal growth instead of external expansion should be more emphasized. First, industry-wide efforts, such as replacing old vessels, changing docks to benefit from lower fee offers, are essential; while, the government will closely consult with relevant agencies and review measures that can strengthen the foundation of the nation's vessel financing, such as expanding the guarantee scope of the vessel financing and extending operation of the KAMCO vessel funds. As of late October, 2011, 430 billion won of loan guarantees have been made to maritime companies. Restructuring Funds, which are the main funding resources for the KAMCO fund, will be maintained till the end of 2011 before being withdrawn. How is the Four Rivers Restoration Project progressing? In Korea, 70% of annual rainfall is concentrated in summer. As it causes frequent flood and drought, the government spends 3~4 trillion won every year for the recovery from flooding damages. Recent climate change is expected to cause more frequent flood and drought. In addition, investment in rivers is urgently needed as high level of economic development raised awareness about the importance of rivers and demand for using rivers and water-front areas. In the past, riverfront areas were used for farming or neglected. Pollutants accumulated downstream in waterfront farmlands and insufficient fresh water during dry seasons undermined river ecosystem. In order to prevent large-scale natural disasters occurred by climate change and improve the soundness and diversity of ecosystem by securing clean and sufficient water resources, Korea carried out the four major rivers restoration project. Neglected water-front areas turned into bicycle lanes and ecology parks where people enjoy cultural and leisure activities. The four major rivers restoration project that was initiated in 2009 is now 92% completed, and the main stream project is 92% completed. Especially, the main stream project will be completed on schedule by the end of this year. During implementation of the project, there was massive criticism from environmental groups about river dredging, etc. However, as the project is bringing fruitful outcome by securing abundant water resources and building bike paths and water-front parks, many citizens now support the project. In particular, although this summer recorded an unprecedented rainfall during the rainy season, there was no serious damage in the four rivers compared to the past. The Korean government's efforts of restoring the four major rivers, responding to climate change and improving ecosystem, will be a good example to Europe. The 1,592km-long bicycle path along the four rivers is the largest and the most beautiful lane in the world and is attracting many tourists who enjoy and give a positive response to the path. What is the reason for last year's yearly housing lease fees and what is the MLTM's plan to stabilize the housing market? The increase in Jeonse prices was mainly resulted from the imbalance between demand and supply of housing for Jeonse and monthly rent. The global financial crisis in 2008 reduced housing supply was reduced since the housing construction market significantly shrank and raised controversy whether or not to abolish the housing-price-capsystem. * Annual authorization and permission for housing construction - (’05) 46.4→(’06) 47.0→(’07) 55.6→(’08) 37.1→(’09) 38.2→(’10) 38.7 Also, stabilized housing price and the increase in redevelopment·housing reconstruction and people's migration increased demand for Jeonse rather than housing sale·purchase. The Korean government will make continuous efforts to stabilize citizens' residence and housing prices. Considering the shortage of housing quantity and quality, it will supply around 400 thousand houses every year as Korea falls short of housing quantity and quality. In addition, the government is trying to diversify housing types and ease regulation in response to changes in demography and family structure due to increasing single and two-person families, low birth rate and aging population, and changes in housing market structure including increased demand for housing for monthly rent. * single, two-person family (%) : (‘90) 22.8 →(’00) 34.6→(’10) 48.1→ (’20) 57.7 * household of aged family members(%) : (‘90) 8.5→(’00) 12.1→(’10) 17.9 →(’20) 22.7 It will also develop and implement a housing policy fit for generation and social class to supply customized housing for new university graduates, middle aged and elderly people, etc. What is the role of the MLTM in carrying out the Korean government's green growth strategies? MLTM is carrying out an important mission of taking care of land, city, housing, transportation, and maritime affairs essential to life of all citizens, and is therefore in a crucial position to lead the way for greenhouse gas reduction and green growth in Korea. Thus, MLTM is pursuing a green growth policy based on the vision of "Creating Low Carbon Green Land and Ocean." At the same time, MLTM is contributing to the alleviation of climate change damages by reducing greenhouse gases, carrying out projects aimed at increasing the adaptation level against climate change, cultivating new economic growth engines such as green technologies and industries, and providing assistance to under-developed countries in the green technology field. First, in the greenhouse gas reduction category, Buildings and transportation, which take up approx. 42% of Korea's greenhouse gas emissions, are being transformed through diverse projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as revision of regulations, demand volume management, and subsidies; in particular, the President's pledge to "reduce 30% of Korea's greenhouse gases compared to BAU by 2020" is being on track to be accomplished as the government set a goal of reducing 26.9% and 34.3% of greenhouse gases in buildings and transportation sectors, respectively, implementing relevant measures. Second, in the climate change adaptation category, for the purpose of reducing damages from extreme weather conditions like floods and droughts, the Four Rivers, stream maintenance, dam construction, and sea water desalination projects are being implemented, while other programs such as maritime observation network establishment, coastal region vulnerability assessment and maintenance are underway. Lastly, in order to create new growth engines based on green technologies MLTM is focusing its efforts on securing maritime energy using solar, tidal, algae, and wave power, cultivating renewable energy like maritime bio diesel, developing various architecture technologies for saving energy, and maintaining an IT-based efficient energy management system. MLTM will do its utmost to minimize life and property damage from natural disasters caused by abnormal weather conditions by making constant development of technologies and seeking global cooperation; in particular, it will actively contribute to increasing the quality of life for all humanity on earth by carrying out its green technology support projects. Any additional comments to the European FDI companies in Korea? The Korean government is developing high potential, investment-worthy future growth centers, such as Sejong City, Innovation City, Enterprise City, Saemangeum, six Free Economic Zones and Jeju Free International City. These centers will emerge as the country's economic growth drivers; investment made in the cities will bring about benefits not just to the concerned cities themselves but also to the investment companies. The government is striving to create a conducive environment for FDI companies for their investment and business activities, by providing tax benefits, subsidies, and lease fee reductions. It is hoped that these projects will draw more attention in the years ahead *************** Current FDI company assistance system overview - Cash assistance: if 20 or more staff are hired, education and training subsidies and employment subsidies are provided - Lease fee reduction: when leasing a government-owned land, the fees will be reduced by 50-100% - Tax reductions: (1) National tax (corporate tax, income tax) ▪ High tech industry assistance companies in open FDI areas: 100% for 5 years, 50% for 2 years ▪ Complex-style FDI areas: 100% for 3 years, 50% for 2 years (2) Regional tax (acquisition tax, property tax) ▪ According to relevant ordinances, up to 15 years can be applied ***************