Respected Executive Chairman Schwab,
Honorable Secretary-General Angel Gurria,
I am greatly pleased to explore our path of inclusive recovery and resurgence together with global leaders at this Davos Agenda.
2020 was indeed a difficult year for us all, but it was also a year when solidarity and cooperation were more desperately needed than ever before. The Republic of Korea was able to quickly make and deliver diagnostic kits in the fight to control the pandemic thanks to the COVID-19 information that the WHO shared with its member nations. Vaccine development, which typically takes a decade to complete, was accomplished in less than one year’s time due to the collective efforts of many countries, corporations, and researchers.
And yet, we are still not in the clear. The economy is recovering but the polarizations and inequities brought by the pandemic are growing even bigger. As COVID-19 becomes more prolonged, inequality is widening—a gap that we are witnessing both within countries, and between countries.
Equally as important as responding to the immediate COVID-19 outbreak and the economic crisis, is our commitment to pool our wisdom to fight against polarization and inequality in the post-COVID-19 era. Which is why I believe the theme for this year’s World Economic Forum, “A Crucial Year to Rebuild Trust,” is very timely.
When Korea became the second country in the world to fall prey to COVID-19, we made it our principle to keep to the spirit of inclusiveness, where we would leave no vulnerable persons behind. We administered rapid and free testing and treatment to patients in quarantine regardless of their nationalities, and when there was a shortage of face masks, we introduced a 5-day rotation rationing system, enabling every Korean to purchase as many masks as they needed.
Now, Korea has entered the stage of overcoming this pandemic, and has set a goal for inclusive recovery and resurgence. As with all other countries, we will begin by carrying out vaccinations which will be the first step we take towards herd immunity. Korea has entered into contracts with many pharmaceutical companies to secure a supply of various types of vaccines that will sufficiently cover our entire population, and we have decided on free vaccinations for the country to uphold the cause of an inclusive recovery in our everyday lives.
Starting next month, we will roll out vaccines to nursing facilities, elderly medical welfare facilities, at-risk medical professionals and care workers according to priority. We are already working to come up with optimized measures for vaccine transport, storage, and administration according to each drug type, as well as countermeasures and compensations against any adverse reactions.
We are also working hard on our own, homegrown vaccines, and when the treatments being developed in Korea are successful, we will supply them to any country that requests it in a spirit of inclusiveness.
For the sake of an inclusive recovery, Korea has also strived to prevent the gaps in our society from widening further amid this crisis. We have absorbed employment shocks through initiatives such as substantial job retention policies and creation of public sector jobs, and dramatically scaled up subsidies for low-income families to improve the distribution effect made possible by fiscal spending.
The government has provided relief quickly, prioritizing those with the most urgent needs with three rounds of emergency relief payments as well as job retention support, vouchers to low-income households, support funds to the self-employed and freelancers, and financial assistance to small businesses. We are speeding up efforts to bridge the gaps in our society by providing better protection to essential workers and expanding worker’s compensation and employment insurance benefits to more workers.
But we want to do more. We are discussing compensation measures for small businesses and self-employed individuals for losses attributable to COVID-19-related restrictions and closures. My administration and the legislature are discussing a profit-sharing system in which the government provides strong incentives to companies that have prospered during the COVID-19 pandemic, to share their profits with their hardest-hit peers on their voluntary good will. More wisdom will be needed to work out the details but if these initiatives are realized, they can become a benchmark for inclusive policies to use in overcoming future pandemics together.
Leaders of the world,
Last year, Korea achieved the highest growth rate among the OECD member countries while minimizing negative impacts to the economy. Korea’s GDP ranking is projected to rise to the world’s top ten and our benchmark stock index also posted the highest growth rate among the G20 countries. The world is taking note of the stellar economic performance that Korea has achieved while carrying out an exemplary pandemic response, and domestic and foreign investors also present optimistic outlooks for the Korean economy. The Korean economy has already returned to positive growth since the last third quarter. In December, our exports surpassed 50 billion dollars in two years, marking an all-time high for the month of December.
In the first half of this year, the Korean economy is expected to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels. The combined economic growth rate of last year and this year is also projected to record the highest among the OECD member countries. With the Korean economy recovering at a rapid speed, the Korean people have seen for themselves the possibility of getting back to normal, as well as making an inclusive recovery and take-off in the economy. We have taken on a more daring challenge with the Korean New Deal.
Through the Korean New Deal initiative, Korea will expand employment and social safety nets and attain an inclusive recovery. Our Digital and Green New Deal will deliver sustainable growth for the Korean economy to reach new heights. Moreover, the Regionally Balanced New Deal will help revitalize local economies and enhance the quality of life equally.
The Korean government is planning to inject 160 trillion won into the Korean New Deal by 2025. To be more specific, we will invest 28 trillion won to strengthen employment and social safety nets, 58 trillion won in the Digital New Deal and 73 trillion won in the Green New Deal, thereby creating jobs and growth engines for the future. The private sector, for its part, has been unveiling large-scale investment plans one after another, and as the New Deal Fund mobilizing policy funds and private financing gains greater traction, total investment is expected to be scaled up even further.
Korea is equipped with world-class ICT infrastructure, with remarkable progress made in digital competitiveness. For new products and technologies that combine IT, the environment, energy, and other green industries, Korea can also be utilized as their testbed.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Korea has never enforced any lockdowns or border closures. This clearly demonstrates that Korea, more than anything, is a safe and stable business partner and investment destination. I hope that the Korean New Deal will lay ground for global companies and venture start-ups to take on new challenges and become a catalyst for expanding cooperation in future industries.
The Green New Deal represents extraordinary efforts on the part of the Korean people to enhance stewardship of our global commons – the theme of this meeting. Last year, with an aim to join the global response to climate change and build an inclusive and sustainable growth for humanity, Korea declared the carbon neutrality vision for 2050. We will vigorously push ahead with carbon neutrality across all aspects of the economy and society, while fostering a low-carbon industrial ecosystem.
Korea will host the second P4G Summit in May, through which we seek to spearhead international cooperation in overcoming the climate crisis. On that note, I ask for your keen interest and participation.
Respected global leaders,
In the face of countless uncertainties and risks, there were those who never faltered but rose to the challenge. The history of humanity advanced as a result.
Even now as we are living through the pandemic, humanity is overcoming hunger, disease and war and practicing the shared values of freedom, democracy, humanitarianism and multilateralism, taking one step forward at a time.
Now, to move towards a new, more inclusive society rather than towards a K-shaped recovery, the world must further reinforce solidarity and collaboration.
Korea supports the WHO’s efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines and is taking an active part in the COVAX facility. I expect that international cooperation will strengthen in distributing vaccines to developing countries and our cooperation with the International Vaccine Institute will expand further.
Furthermore, I hope that the actions agreed by G20 last year to support world trade and investment in response to COVID-19 as well as essential cross-border movement of people will be facilitated smoothly. Through multilateral cooperation, I hope that a more sustainable and inclusive recovery will be achieved together.
The Republic of Korea remains deeply committed to surmounting this crisis together with the entire world and is ready to actively join the international community’s call for solidarity and cooperation. As a country with an exemplary track record in epidemic control and prevention, Korea seeks to share its experiences in COVID-19 response with the rest of the world and broaden humanitarian assistance to countries with vulnerable healthcare systems.
Solidarity and cooperation, not each of us fighting our battles alone, is what makes us stronger in defeating the pandemic. Let us embrace this idea and work to bring it to reality.