The Korean Economy in 2019: Challenge and Opportunity

feb26 luncheon

Asia Society Korea hosted its first luncheon of 2019 on Tuesday, February 26. Those fortunate enough to be in attendance were able to listen to an esteemed panel discuss “The Korean Economy in 2019: Challenge and Opportunity”. The three members of the panel were Ambassador Seokyoung Choi, a Senior Advisor at Lee & Ko; Mr. Wonjae Lee, CEO of LAB2050; and Dr. Jaemin Lee, a Professor at the SNU School of Law. The event was moderated by Mr. Michael Breen, who is the CEO of Insight Communications Consultants.

First, Mr. Lee spoke regarding Korea’s low growth forecast and suggested that it is being hindered by structural issues such as population and income distribution. He noted that the country’s aging population requires more social security, which the government hopes to achieve through income-led growth.  Additionally, a decrease in the working aged population will necessitate innovative growth strategies such as increasing productivity. 

Next, both Professor Lee and Ambassador Choi answered a question regarding why some are predicting a global recession. They put forward reasons such as U.S.-China trade tensions, the global economic turn down, and Brexit. In terms of Korea, Professor Lee went on to mention that numerous factors are putting pressure on the economy; however, the biggest is the so-called trade war between the U.S. and China. 

Then, in response to a question about the future of chaebols, Mr. Lee explained that the current government is approaching them on two fronts. One relates to the much-publicized reform and the other is by encouraging them to invest more on the peninsula; for example, building new factories to create new jobs and help reduce unemployment. However, Mr. Lee believes this is an unrealistic proposition with chaebols focused on more profitable options abroad in countries such as Vietnam. 

Despite the day’s topic focusing on the economy, all three of the panelists were happy to give their views on the upcoming meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders in Hanoi, Vietnam. None of them predicted a significant outcome but they all expect small compromises, mostly related to the inter-Korean relationship. 

Finally, the panelists took a number of challenging questions from some of the distinguished guests in attendance. The topics posed included job creation, international relations, and the challenge of raising domestic consumption. The first luncheon of 2019 was then wrapped up with the news that next month’s event will take place on Thursday, March 14th with Pyeongyang’s World Food Representative on hand to talk about North Korea.