Fellow Koreans, distinguished business and industry professionals,
Spring, a harbinger of recovery and resurgence, has come. The economy that has been frozen due to the COVID-19 crisis is now ready to thaw and flow vigorously yet again. I congratulate you on this 48th Commerce and Industry Day ceremony held at a critical juncture as a new future begins after having overcome an unprecedented crisis.
I am grateful to microbusiness owners and all the leaders of industry from SMEs, middle market businesses and large conglomerates for having worked hard despite difficulties over the past year. Congratulations also go to the honorees to be awarded today for their special contributions.
One hundred and thirty seven years ago, the merchants of Joseon established the Hanseong Chamber of Commerce to protect their commercial rights and the national economy. That spirit spread across the country by Joseon merchants has steadily carried on into that of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is helping to underpin local economies today and achieve our economic miracles.
Today, I extend congratulations to new KCCI Chairman Chey Tae-won upon his inauguration. I am also deeply grateful to former Chairman Park Yong-maan for his hard work with other leaders of industry in struggles ranging from responding to Japan’s export restrictions to surmounting the COVID-19 crisis.
The new KCCI leadership consists of leaders from conglomerates, IT platforms, business ventures, the game industry and the financial and investment industry. They include Chairman Kim Nam-goo of Korea Investment Holdings, Chairman Kim Beom-su of Kakao, CEO Kim Taek-jin of NC Soft, Vice Chairman Park Gee-won of Doosan Group, CEO Lee Han-joo of Bespin Global, President Lee Hyung-hee of SK Broadband and Chairman Chang Byung-gyu of Krafton. As they will be working together as representatives of new industries, people’s expectations for them are higher than at any time before.
The leaders of industry gathered here are the main actors who have led Korea from the ruins of war to the stature of the world’s 7th largest exporter and one of its 10 strongest economies. Our businesses are the title holders of world firsts and world bests in terms of such achievements as the first commercialization of 5G technology and development of the finest hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Together with these leaders of industry, we have fostered hopes for our economy with “can-do” self-confidence. I look forward to raising such hopes further still and all of us vigorously taking off toward a new future in the post-COVID-19 era.
Distinguished leaders of industry,
Despite a lack of natural resources and a limited domestic market, we have achieved many accomplishments worthy of global attention through our people and innovation. Our industries have become highly sophisticated from light industry to heavy and chemical industries and on to IT. We have advanced into the world by continuously innovating.
Korea’s response to COVID-19 is also being shored up with the people as one pillar and businesses as the other. Businesses promptly produced diagnostic kits and face masks. They have also provided full support not only for manufacturing vaccines for the world but also for developing vaccines and treatments here at home.
Even amid the world’s economic crisis, our businesses have ranked first in terms of global market shares for memory semiconductors and LNG carriers. Korea has also become the 5th largest automobile producer in the world up from the 7th. Last year, our exports of such new industry items as biohealth, system semiconductors and eco-friendly cars hit all-time highs. March’s total export figures year-on-year are also forecast to easily break double-digit growth.
Last year saw the number of newly established corporations and the amount of investment in new business ventures both reaching record highs. In particular, all the more promising news is that a total of 804,000 employees were with business ventures at the end of 2019, surpassing the combined total of the four major business groups.
Efforts by business and industry professionals have protected our industries and trade. The time has now approached for an economic rebound. Economic recovery will be expedited, quickening the arrival of spring for our economy. The IMF forecasts 3.6 percent growth for the Korean economy this year, up half a percentage point in just two months. This figure is higher than previous predictions by domestic and overseas institutions such as the OECD and the Bank of Korea. This can be attributed to our people’s exemplary epidemic prevention and control as well as efforts by the leaders of industry.
The Government will further accelerate vaccinations to achieve herd immunity as early as possible. Along with the emergency relief payments earmarked for microbusiness owners in the supplementary budget, the funds for employment stability and customized job programs will be quickly disbursed to create an opportunity for the economy and employment to clearly recover. I extend special gratitude to businesses that have retained their employees. We will increase subsidies to help cover up to 90 percent of the expenses businesses incur while maintaining employment and expand the number of business lines eligible for these subsidies, thereby protecting every single job together.
Fellow Koreans, leaders of industry,
We all have worked together to achieve economic growth that the world has praised highly. However, some in our society were sacrificed in the shadows of rapid growth. It is true that growth has been given priority over the issues of inequality and polarization, labor rights, the environment and safety.
Now is the time for change. The role of businesses has become all the more important. While turning the focus away from short-term sales and operating profit, we must now usher in an era of compassionate capitalism embodied by ESG – environmental, social and governance – which also emphasizes a business’s non-financial performance.
The world is moving in the same direction. Sustainable development has become a new global vision. At this year’s World Economic Forum, heads of state and corporate CEOs reflected on shareholder capitalism focused on maximizing shareholder value. They stressed the need for it to be reborn into a new capitalism that warmly embraces stakeholders, including customers, workers, contractors and local communities. They proposed that they regain market confidence by pursuing public interests.
Domestic companies have also been establishing ESG-focused management strategies for some years now, and numerous changes are already taking place. Instead of abandoning coal-dependent business projects, they are leading an energy transition by declaring commitments to carbon neutrality and the RE100 project – which calls for using only renewable energy to manufacture goods. They are also blazing a new trail for growth through eco-friendly cars, hydrogen and other green industries as well as waste recycling and other elements of the circular economy. Many businesses have taken the lead to carry out training programs for young people in local areas and those with disabilities, and an increasing number of companies have placed their top priority on industrial safety.
The noblesse oblige of new enterprise and startup founders who donated more than half of their assets has set an example for mutual growth within society and businesses. An increasing number of companies are taking the initiative for transparent and fair corporate governance. They are raising the proportion of female executives and strengthening ethical standards, thereby increasing both fairness and efficiency. I also look forward to companies that have established ESG committees making notable changes to promote environmental, safety and customer values.
They likely are not on this path just out of a sense of responsibility. This path will lead to higher growth as well as a competitive edge in a new era. The number of investment products that place ESG as a top priority has surged, and the returns on ESG funds last year were comparable to average stock market returns. Companies that build trust with their executives and employees as well as customers and local communities recover faster from a crisis and see productivity rise further.
The Government and businesses share the same ideas. The 2050 carbon neutrality goal and the Korean New Deal, which has strengthened the employment safety net and the social safety net, represent the future envisioned by businesses and all of our people – the environment, economy and society advancing further together.
The Government will make 2021 the first year when “ESG management and entrepreneurship for all” spread, and we will provide full support so that more companies can participate. The system for making sustainability reports public will be improved, ESG standards established and ways to provide incentives sought. To respond to climate change and achieve carbon neutrality, we will set up a presidential committee for carbon neutrality through a private-public sector partnership and closely communicate and cooperate with industry. The competitiveness of the green industry will be significantly increased by implementing the Green New Deal in earnest. The more companies are mindful of society and the environment, the sooner a new era will arrive – one where trust allows companies and individuals as well as the economy and environment to coexist.
The inclusiveness of our society will grow further still. More workers and young people will have positive views of our society and gather a sense of hope. I’d like to see the KCCI, the only statutory comprehensive business association, serve as a reliable communication channel between the Government and industry. The Government will always keep its heart and ears wide open to businesses and leaders of industry.
Fellow Koreans and leaders of industry,
In the past, we were busy catching up to developed countries. The situation is different now. We have enough ability and confidence to usher in a new era ahead of others. If we add in a commitment to mutual benefit, we will be able to advance into a pace-setting nation in the post-COVID-19 era.
It is the era of leaders of industry, businesspeople and traders. All of you have helped the Republic of Korea grow to where it is now, and you should once again lead us into a new future. Together with the people, let us recover vigorously and leap even higher.