Town hall-style meetings planned as tone at top changes

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Town hall-style meetings planned as tone at top changes

Is President Moon Jae-in charting a new economic course?

According to Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom on Thursday, the president plans to meet with heads of conglomerates later this month.

“The meeting will be town hall-style, where businesses can voice their opinions freely without any formality and where [the president] can frankly communicate,” Kim said. The spokesman said the meetings with major conglomerates will take place after the president meets with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and small business owners on Jan. 7.

“The purpose of the meeting is to continue in the direction of his New Year’s speech,” Kim said. “It is to discuss policies to revitalize the economy this year while creating an environment favorable to investment.”

The announcement of the meeting came a day after President Moon delivered his New Year’s message at the Korea Federation of SMEs along with the heads of major conglomerates, including Samsung Group’s Lee Jae-yong, Hyundai Motor’s Chung Eui-sun, SK Group’s Chey Tae-won and LG’s Koo Kwang-mo attending.

It was the first time the Blue House New Year’s event was held at the SME federation and not at the Blue House. The change of venue was seen as signaling that President Moon is putting the economy at the top of his list.

Unlike his New Year’s speech made last year, where the main theme was of social justice and peace on the peninsula, President Moon on Wednesday emphasized boosting the economy. He mentioned a “favorable environment” for businesses to invest and the introduction of a so-called regulatory sandbox for new industries.

On Thursday, President Moon visited start-ups in central Seoul with several of his top advisers, including Blue House policy chief Kim Soo-hyun, Blue House secretary on jobs Jung Tae-ho and Minister of SMEs and Startups Hong Jong-haak.

“I will make a start-up country that encourages innovation and doesn’t fear failure,” President Moon said.

The Blue House announcement on the town hall-style meeting follows Blue House policy chief Kim Soo-hyun’s meeting with top conglomerate executives late last year.

According to the Blue House, the meeting was organized by Kim Kwang-doo, who resigned as vice chairman of the President’s National Economic Advisory Council on Dec. 31. However, the Blue House insisted there was no significance to the meeting, saying it was not exceptional.

“It was a routine meeting,” spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. “Today they met again for lunch, and [the Blue House] will continue to meet with businesses.”

When the current administration took office in May 2017, and throughout most of 2018, the government stressed leveling the playing field, especially boosting SMEs and realizing income-led growth.

Conglomerates were seen as being put on the back burner, and government agencies like the Fair Trade Commission intensified their investigations of antitrust violations committed by large businesses at the expense of smaller contractors.

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