(Unofficial translation)

Fellow Koreans, distinguished members of international trading community,

I wholeheartedly congratulate you on the 55th Trade Day.

Seventy years ago, the first ROK-flagged cargo ship the Aengdohwan set sail for Hong Kong laden with exports of squid and agar. After that, we opened a path toward economic development via exports, and all Koreans have worked hard to build up the nation through exports.

Finally, in 1964, Korea reached what had once been regarded as only a dream: the US$100 million mark in exports. The Export Day designated to commemorate that achievement has evolved into the Trade Day we celebrate today.

This year, our exports are projected to surpass US$600 billion for the first time in Korea’s history. This is a 6,000-fold increase in 54 years from that US$100 million in exports. 

It is truly an astounding accomplishment that the Republic of Korea, which ranks only 107th in the world in terms of land size with the 27th largest population, stands tall as the sixth biggest global export powerhouse. 

The exporters ranked higher than us are countries that long ago began fostering trade while establishing colonies. Among the countries that gained independence after the Second World War, Korea is the only one on the list of top ten exporters. We have grown into an export powerhouse with nothing but our own sheer effort. We deserve to take immense pride in ourselves for this laudable growth. 

In addition, Korea’s tallied trade for the year has broken the US$1 trillion mark in the shortest period of time ever. By the end of the year, the total trade is expected to exceed US$1.1 trillion, an all-time high.

Another noteworthy achievement is the diversification of export items and markets.

Outbound shipments of semiconductors, general machinery and petrochemical products have posted record highs. At the same time, overseas sales from the eight new industries, including bio-health, electric vehicles, robots and advanced materials, soared as much as 12 percent, twice the increase of exports overall. Exports of cosmetics, regarded as promising consumer goods, and pharmaceuticals surged 33 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Accordingly, the percentage of Korea’s 13 flagship export items in total exports has gradually declined. 

Geographically, exports to all destinations, with the exception of the Middle East, have increased evenly. Notably, the New Northern Policy and New Southern Policy are rapidly showing their effects. Exports to Russia and other northern countries rose more than 10 percent this year. ASEAN is Korea’s second largest trading partner and, among its member states, Vietnam has become Korea’s third largest export destination and its second biggest market for overseas construction. 

We are set to achieve yet another historic economic feat this year: we will usher in the era of US$30,000 in per capita income for the first time. The IMF forecasts Korea’s per capita income reaching US$32,000 this year. Korea will become the seventh country in the world to join the 30-50 club of economic powerhouses with a population of over 50 million and a per capita income of more than US$30,000. It is truly gratifying, pride-inducing news.  

All of this success stems from the sweat and tears shed day and night by Koreans working at manufacturing lines, ports and wharfs as well as in overseas markets. My respects and compliments go to all businesspeople, all workers, all international trade professionals and all citizens of the Republic of Korea who have helped accomplish such miraculous achievements.

Our proud international traders, 

We have made progress by means of openness and commerce. Increases in trade and exports based on free trade will continue to be crucial for the Korean economy’s sustainable development. 

However, the situations ahead of us will not be easy to deal with. Protectionism and trade disputes among major countries are posing a threat to the foundation of global free trade. The world’s economic outlook next year does not favor international trade. Also Korea’s exports are still seen as heavily dependent on a limited number of items such as semiconductors and in need of greater participation from SMEs and middle market businesses.

We cannot afford to be complacent about what we have achieved thus far. Management, labor and the Government should work together hand in hand to surmount unfavorable conditions and move forward.

We should not be swayed by the market volatility of specific items or economic situations in certain regions. We should be reborn as an inclusive trade powerhouse by identifying those areas for exports and investment that can benefit both sides. We should start aiming once again for the era of US$1 trillion in exports. 

To this end, we need to bolster industry-by-industry export capabilities and diversify export items, destinations and exporting businesses.

In particular, the diversification of export items can begin with the participation of a host of SMEs and middle market businesses. The Government will provide active support so that they can set out to expand exports. The Government intends to expand financial, personnel and consulting services that are necessary at relevant stages of growth.

Through ‘export vouchers,’ businesses will be able to directly select an institution for export assistance and the types of services they would like to receive. Microbusiness owners and the self-employed will be provided with group insurance at no cost in order to reduce export risks. 

I hope that the expansion of exports by SMEs and middle market companies will further strengthen our export fundamentals.    

We should pioneer new markets to increase trade stability and sustainability. 

The Government will do all it can to ensure that negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will be concluded by the end of next year. Free trade will be expanded in a market that includes all of the nations targeted by the New Southern Policy and accounts for half of the world’s population and one third of its GDP. The Government will speed up improvements in the Korea-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement as well as free trade negotiations between Korea and Mercosur, South America’s common market. This will be of great help in strategic economic cooperation with emerging nations. 

The 2019 ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit to be held in Korea next year will provide opportunities for new cooperation and resurgence.

To improve key industries’ export competiveness, it is imperative for our manufacturing sector to regain its vitality. 

A plan to revive the shipbuilding industry was announced last month, and a strategy for innovative manufacturing at SMEs and a measure to assist the auto parts industry will be laid out soon. More efforts will be made in infrastructure development to boost electric and hydrogen vehicle usage.     

I ask you to demonstrate once more the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit that has helped build this manufacturing powerhouse.  

Fellow Koreans and international trade professionals, 

Now we need to steer the proud accomplishments in exports to help achieve an inclusive growth in which everyone prospers together. Export growth should bring an increase in the number of decent jobs and improve the lives of the people. 

The trickle-down effect no longer works. Growth in exports and higher profits for businesses do not lead to increases in employment. Jobless growth has become common and economic inequality and polarization have worsened, actually creating a situation that hinders growth. It has become difficult for past economic policies to help regain economic vitality. This is a common problem facing all countries.         

The concept of inclusive growth and inclusive states is a new solution sought jointly with countries around the world. Growth can be sustained when we prosper together. When income-driven growth and innovative growth are achieved based on a fair economy, the benefits of exports and growth can be equally distributed to all the people. 

A social safety net such as measures for stable employment is especially needed. Sustainable growth can be achieved when we reduce gaps and move toward a society where no one is excluded. 

The Government is facing up to the fact that although it has increased the income and improved the lives of working-class households this year, it has not been able to solve the unemployment problem and that the difficulties of the self-employed have been aggravated. 

Countermeasures have been prepared in that regard and reflected in next year’s budget proposal. The Government will do its utmost to ease hardships that businesses may experience as a result of increases in the minimum wage and reduced working hours. 

However, Government efforts alone cannot bring about inclusive growth and an inclusive state. Through lengthy experiences, we know all too well that moving forward together by making small concessions is better than hastily putting forward one’s own demands. 

Civic groups, workers, businesses and the Government need to cooperate. I am confident that if we create an inclusive state where everyone prospers together, our economy will be able to make a new leap forward and bring the world new hope.   

Fellow Koreans and international traders, 

In 2005, we proposed a vision of reaching US$500 billion in exports and US$1 trillion in trade within 10 years. We achieved that goal in 2011, four years ahead of schedule. 

An era of US$1 trillion in exports and trade of US$2 trillion is not just a dream. If the DNA of success you have exhibited is combined with the support of the people, we will be able to accomplish the goal without fail. 

The Republic of Korea as a global trading state lies right before us. I am confident that just as trade has led the Korean economy to date, trade will help bring about an inclusive state where everyone prospers together. I ask you to work together so that growth in exports and increases in per capita income can be felt by the people as an improvement in their lives. 

International traders, I ask you to constantly run one step ahead. The Government will always stand by you. 

Thank you.