Lunar New Year comes earlier than usual this year. Marking one of Korea’s most important traditional holidays, I hope everyone’s family will be suffused with peace and happiness. The Government will do its best to be of great help to the people and inspire them with hope.
With the turn of the New Year, signs of our economy improving and rebounding have emerged. These are partly due to the Government’s efforts to consistently implement policies intended to transform economic fundamentals and to channel its capabilities into increasing economic vitality. More than anything else, however, these are largely attributable to the people’s efforts to pull together to overcome difficulties. I am deeply grateful to the public once again. It is also very fortunate that the Government, for its part, is able to talk about hope for the people’s livelihood and the economy.
What is most noticeable are strong exports. From the beginning of this year, average daily exports are back on an upward trend. It is difficult to know from a monthly tally in January because of the shorter workdays due to the long Lunar New Year holiday, but it is projected that average monthly exports, too, will begin to show an upward trend from February.
Adding great momentum is the fact that key areas of manufacturing have begun to make a gradual turnaround. Global business conditions for semiconductors, which account for 20 percent of Korea’s exports, are improving. Therefore, the majority of research institutions have reached roughly the same common forecast that semiconductor manufacturers will begin to see improvements in their performance in earnest from the second quarter and their annual exports will rally as well.
The automobile industry has posted an increase in export revenue thanks to brisk shipments of high-priced vehicles, including SUVs and eco-friendly cars, despite a slight decrease in the number of automobiles exported last year. This trend will likely continue throughout this year.
The domestic shipbuilding industry has ranked first in the world for two consecutive years in terms of new building orders by receiving the most orders for high value-added vessels such as LNG carriers. This year, global shipbuilding orders are expected to soar approximately 50 percent. Accordingly, over the next two to three years, production and employment will continue to increase, and the amount of exports to be tallied at customs clearance will rise as well.
Our exports have been diversified to include high value-added items such as rechargeable batteries as well as those from new and 5G-related industries, and our export markets are expanding to encompass countries linked to the New Northern and New Southern policies – all positive developments for our economy.
Confidence in the economy, which had shrunk, is also picking up. The Composite Consumer Sentiment Index surpassed the benchmark 100 points for two months in a row, pointing to rising public expectations for an economic recovery, and the business sentiment index, which combines sentiments of both businesses and consumers, also rose for the second straight month. The rebound of the stock market, the barometer of the real economy, reflects growing expectations for our economy.
The Government will redouble its efforts to help sustain these positive trends. We will vigorously back up economic vitality by promoting investments, domestic consumption and exports. In addition, we will further accelerate regulatory innovation on the basis of the passage of the three data-related bills while expanding the achievements of the regulatory sandbox system.
We will focus more on fostering new industries to create future growth engines and infuse dynamism into the economy by disseminating the enthusiasm for innovative startups.
In addition, we will make this year the first one to usher in the era of 20 million foreign tourists and help K-culture, K-content, K-beauty and K-food reach every corner of the world, thereby making the Republic of Korea’s “K” emerge as a global brand.
On the home front, we will continue our efforts to enhance inclusiveness in our society. With a firm belief that enhanced inclusiveness is the foundation not only for social cohesion and the resolution of inequality but also for sustainable growth, the Government has consistently implemented policies to lower such essential living expenses as medical expenditures and increase disposable income, for instance, by expanding the earnings of low-income families, welfare benefits and the social safety net.
As a result, household income increased across all quintiles. In particular, it is a meaningful accomplishment that the income level of the poorest 20 percent turned upward despite the rapidly aging population. Most of all, it is a noteworthy change in our society that the three key indices of income distribution – the Gini coefficient, the income quintile ratio and the relative poverty rate – all improved. We will work to complete the framework of an innovative, inclusive nation by building upon the achievements made to date.
The scope of those eligible to receive the pension for people with disabilities – currently at a maximum of 300,000 won per month – will be expanded beginning today. This year, it has started to cover those in the second lowest income bracket, and next year it will cover everyone with disabilities. The number of recipients of the basic pension for senior citizens will increase starting this week. The bottom 40 percent in terms of income levels will receive the basic pension of up to 300,000 won per month beginning this month, whereas only the bottom 20 percent were eligible in the past. Next year, up to the bottom 70 percent will be able to receive the basic pension. Support for the self-employed and microbusiness owners will be steadily expanded in addition to increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and easing the family support obligation rules within the national basic living security system.
Whenever traditional holidays are near, the first thing that comes to mind is neighbors in need. I ask government officials to implement the comprehensive measures already announced for the Lunar New Year holiday as planned, including improving public safety and the livelihood of ordinary people and supporting low-income households. In particular, there must not be even the slightest bit of negligence in transportation and safety management. Special transportation measures will have to be flawlessly executed to ensure a comfortable trip back home, and there should be no inconveniences related to receiving medical services during this holiday period.
Preparations have to be made to prevent serious accidents even amid deteriorating weather conditions by thoroughly monitoring roads and transportation facilities. Special efforts are also required to prevent fires and industrial accidents. By enforcing safety response systems around the clock, I would like you to do all you can to ensure that every citizen can enjoy a happy holiday without anyone being excluded.