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(News Focus) Park's overseas trip shows economy matters

2014/01/23 06:15

By Chang Jae-soon

BERN, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye headed home from a trip to India and Switzerland Wednesday after winning New Delhi's commitment to open the world's second-most populous market wider to Korean businesses and a Swiss promise to share its know-how in vocational education.

The weeklong trip also took Park to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for an annual gathering of global political and business leaders, where she championed her "creative economy" vision as a solution to global economic woes and sought to promote South Korea as an ideal destination for investment.

Overall, the first overseas trip by Park this year underscored the point that the economy remains her top priority. Earlier this month, Park promised to nearly double South Korea's per capita income to around US$40,000 during the remainder of her term under a three-year plan aimed at boosting the economy.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after a joint news conference in New Delhi on Jan. 16. (Yonhap)

The highlight of the state visit to India was a summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The talks produced an agreement to revise the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement -- a free trade pact that has been in place since 2010. The revision, if realized, would allow South Korean firms wider access to the massive market of 1.2 billion people.

South Korea has called for revising the agreement, complaining its level of liberalization is lower than that of similar accords India has with other nations, especially Japan, which makes Korean firms in India less competitive than their Japanese rivals.

The agreement to upgrade the pact was seen as a victory for South Korea because India has been reluctant about Seoul's calls for a revision due mainly to concerns that its trade deficits could grow.

Park also used the summit to ease the way for South Korean firms to do business in India, securing an agreement to revise the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement at an early date and clearing key obstacles that have since 2005 held up South Korean steel giant POSCO's project to build a steel plant in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

While in New Delhi, Park also met with the chairman of Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra, which has a controlling stake in South Korea's Ssangyong Motor, and asked for more investment. The chairman, Anand Mahindra, said his company plans to invest about 1 trillion won (US$942 million) in Ssangyong over the next four years.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter shake hands after a joint news conference following summit talks in Bern on Jan. 20. (Yonhap)

The visit to Switzerland focused on bolstering cooperation in vocational training.

Switzerland, though small in size with a population of 8 million, is the world's 20th-largest economy in terms of gross national product. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found the European economy the most competitive in the world for the fifth consecutive year last year.

Behind the economic success of Switzerland is a highly skilled labor force, and a key point of Park's state visit to the country is to take a firsthand look at its vocational education in hopes of gleaning information useful for resource-scarce Korea.

In a summit on Monday, Park and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter agreed to increase cooperation in vocational education. The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for providing vocational training opportunities in Switzerland every year for 20 young South Koreans.

The agreement between the Korea Institute for the Advancement of Technology and the Swiss mechanical and electrical engineering industries (SWISSMEN) is meaningful in that Switzerland has rarely opened its vocational training system to foreign countries, officials said.

On Tuesday, Park also toured Commercial-Industrial Vocational School Bern (GIBB).

North Korea was also a key topic at the summit.

Park said during a joint news conference that the two countries agreed to make concerted efforts to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear program. Burkhalter also said during the conference that Switzerland is ready to do whatever is necessary for stability on the Korean Peninsula.

After the state visit to the Swiss capital of Bern, Park made a two-day trip to the ski resort of Davos for an annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, also known as the Davos Forum. Park used the forum as an investor relations session for the South Korean economy.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye makes a speech at this year's meeint of the World Economic Forum at the Swiss ski resort of Davos on Jan. 22. (Yonhap)

In a keynote speech before political and business leaders from around the world, Park championed her "creative economy" vision as a solution to global economic woes such as low growth, high unemployment and a widening income gap, saying the existing paradigm of economic growth has reached its limit.

During a question and answer session, Park said that the unification of the two Koreas would be a "jackpot" not only for Korean people, but for neighbors as well because it will touch off massive infrastructure projects in the North and revitalize investments in neighboring China and Russia.

She also held a series of one-on-one meetings with the CEOs of global firms CISCO, Qualcomm, Saudi Aramco and Siemens to call for expanding investment in South Korea.



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