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President Oh Young-ho of the Korea Investment and Trade Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said reaching the era of $2 trillion won in international trade will depend on how wisely Korea can cope with uncertainties in the global economy with a number of key trading countries holding elections for their heads of state, some of whom might call for protectionist policies as part of their election campaign pledges.
KOTRA, with 111 overseas trade offices around the world, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The state-run trade promotion agency was set up in 1960 to spur the nation's exports. President Oh is at the point this year where he has to lead the agency to draw up a new vision for KOTRA's operations in the coming half century.
The three key areas in KOTRA's future plan would include the service industry based on knowledge, spurring Hallyu-related trade, and expanding trade with emerging market countries. KOTRA would have to find future growth motors in the service industrial areas through R&D and marketing.
Oh feels that the spreading popularity of Korean entertainment, or Hallyu, should be taken advantage of in promoting Korea's exports and attracting foreign investments in Korea. KOTRA should spread to the emerging market countries Korea's know-how in the construction of key infrastructure and use manpower trading as a means to expand Korea's exports to those countries.
Oh also plans to give support to the promising SMEs to go overseas for trade in tie-ups with large trading firms already in overseas market or in partnership with global firms. KOTRA will give much more support to SMEs going overseas for the first time by holding overseas trade exhibitions for their products.
He said KOTRA is also studying ways to help Korean firms set up their subsidiaries overseas by taking advantage of the IT firm launching centers in such strategic locations as Beijing, the Silicon Valley in the United States, and Tokyo.
Oh said the biggest danger to the growth of exports this year will be political risks with a number of key elections overseas among of Korea's major trading partners including the United States with its a presidential and congressional elections, China with President Hu to transfer power to Xi, and France's presidential race. Meanwhile, the world economy is sluggish due to the European debt crisis. Korea's political situation unleashed by the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the subsequent power change with his young son Jong-Un taking over could undermine Korea's economic growth this year.
Those uncertainties and risks require serious analyses in searching for future growth engines and the government should provide forums to study which technologies and industries should be pursued by R&D units of industries and universities for the sustainable growth of the economy.
Oh also called for maximum efforts by exporters to overcome uncertainties in the global economy. They should mix the Korean culture into export products by using digital technologies, arts and culture in order to increase the value-added portions. SMEs with superb technologies should tie-up with global companies to export their products.
Korean firms should also take advantage of the free trade agreements with foreign countries including the one with the United States to expand their sales. They should make maximum efforts to make good use of them and the government should make every effort to sign FTAs with more countries this year including China and Japan, the KOTRA head said.
Korea will hold two major elections this year, one for parliament in April and the other for the head of state in December and Oh sees many candidates issuing pledges to increase welfare funds to help pay tuitions for students who need financial help at various schools and universities. nw

President Oh Young-ho of KOTRA.

A view of the KOTRA building in southern Seoul.

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