Let me begin the first Cabinet Meeting of 2021.
We start the new year with a heavy and tremendous sense of responsibility. This year, we will undoubtedly overcome COVID-19 as soon as possible and bring normal life back to the people. We will make 2021 a year to leap forward as a leading nation by drawing on our crisis-resistant potential that turns crises into opportunities.
The Republic of Korea’s top priority this year is to get past the long tunnel of COVID-19 as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the spread of the virus, after reaching a peack, has recently been contained little by little as evidenced by the fact that the basic reproduction number has been gradually dropping. This can be attributed to our people, who have actively complied with epidemic prevention measures and cooperated while withstanding the hardships of bringing their daily lives to a halt. However, we must not fall into complacency. The Government will keep a tighter rein on anti-epidemic measures to make sure that the daily count of confirmed cases continues a clear descent.
Surmounting this critical point successfully will enable us to respond more aggressively through vaccines and treatments, starting next month. When the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety approves a vaccine, inoculations can begin as early as next month. One pharmaceutical company has already sought conditional authorization for the use of its treatment, bringing the development of homegrown treatments within sight. The availability of treatments will help the Republic of Korea emerge as a model country equipped with all three elements to prevail over COVID-19 – infectious disease control measures, vaccines and treatments. The Government will do everything possible to make a swift return to normal life the greatest present in the new year.
Also imperative is the stabilization of livelihoods that have been rendered tenuous by COVID-19. The pain inflicted by COVID-19 has never fallen upon everyone equally. Finding ways to share the burden of this pain will be our priority.
Microbusiness owners and the self-employed have been hit the hardest financially. The Government is doing its best to ease their hardships, including by distributing the third round of emergency relief payments next week.
In addition, we will faithfully fulfill the role of a buttress to safeguard the people’s lives by expanding welfare and strengthening the social safety net. The greatest effort will also be made to resolve disparities related to caregiving and education, which have become more pronounced due to COVID-19. Above all, an all-out effort will be made to support employment retention. In the process, we will devote ourselves to expanding the employment safety net for the vulnerable, including temporary workers, day laborers and the contract-based self-employed. In particular, increased support will be provided for young people who are struggling due to diminishing job opportunities.
Stabilizing housing is also a crucial task for the people’s livelihoods. We will not hesitate to establish additional necessary measures while maintaining government policies to curtail speculative demand, expand the housing supply and strengthen protections for tenants. First and foremost, we will focus on quickly devising innovative and diverse housing supply plans.
We have to achieve a quick and strong economic recovery this year. Despite the severe downturn in the global economy last year, the Korean economy has overcome the crises in an exemplary manner, generating hope. Our country is forecast to rank first among the OECD members in terms of economic growth, and a rebound in exports has continued with total value hitting a record high for December. Exports by the three new industries – system semiconductors, eco-friendly cars and biohealth – have grown by double digits, also reaching record highs, and the share of exports by SMEs and middle-market companies has expanded, brightening our future outlook even further. The market’s evaluation of our economy and domestic businesses is also the best ever, as evidenced by Korea’s benchmark KOSPI approaching the 3,000-point mark with stock prices breaking record highs every day.
We will make sure that the pulse of our economy beats more vigorously in the new year, thereby making it possible for Korea to be the first to return to pre-COVID-19 conditions and emerge as an economic powerhouse. The Government will fully seize the positive changes seen in our economy, which has become even stronger amid the crises. In particular, all-out efforts will be made to foster new future industries and business ventures in order to further enhance our economy’s future competitiveness and dynamism.
The New Year’s biggest goal that the Government wants to share with the people is the leap toward becoming a pace-setting nation. We will push ahead with the Korean New Deal in earnest and vigorously stride toward 2050 carbon neutrality. In so doing, we will lay the foundation for the Republic of Korea’s grand transformation and, at the same time, boldly take on the unprecedented historic challenge of transitioning into a low-carbon society.
Now, the era of a Korea discount is over, and we are moving toward the era of a Korea premium. The Republic of Korea’s status has risen high enough for us to be invited to the G7 Summit twice in a row – this year and last. It is estimated that last year, our per capita income surpassed that of a G7 member state for the first time in history. We set a global example by succeeding both economically and with epidemic prevention and control. The country’s excellent cultural capabilities have given Koreans worldwide a sense of pride, and our K-brand has gone global. These are great achievements made by the people, who have been acting as the principal agents during these crises.
Last year, we rediscovered the Republic of Korea’s true nature amid crises. Based on that confidence, let us make 2021 a year to leap toward becoming a pace-setting nation. With mature civic awareness and the strength to unite even more in the face of a crisis, let’s move ahead vigorously toward restoring daily life and emerging as a leading country.