The largest association of overseas-based Korean business leaders put forward an ambitious vision Monday to offer overseas internship positions for 10,000 young Korean adults as it celebrated its 30th anniversary with a pledge to expand the "business territory" of their homeland.
The World Federation of Overseas Korean Traders Association, or World-OKTA, also vowed to take advantage of its deep-reaching network of members around the world to help small- and medium-sized firms enter foreign markets under its "Vision 2020" plan unveiled at a massive ceremony.
President Lee Myung-bak was among about 1,000 participants in the event held at the Sheraton Walker Hill in eastern Seoul. Others included Yonhap News Agency President and CEO Park Jung-chan, government ministers and lawmakers from the ruling and the opposition parties. Yonhap News, Korea's key news service, was a co-organizer of the event.
The World-OKTA was formed in April 1981, led by Korean traders based in the United States and Japan under the auspices of a state-run trade association, in order to promote their homeland's international trade and help improve the country's image and status.
The group has since grown into the largest organization of overseas Korean businesspeople and now has 6,200 full members and 8,400 next-generation members at 113 chapters in 61 countries. It has held an export conference in South Korea every year to help small- and medium-sized firms break into foreign markets.
This year's conference is set for Tuesday to Friday in the southeastern city of Changwon.
The "Vision 2020" plan lays out the organization's goal for the next 10 years. Through the provision of 10,000 internship positions in foreign countries, the group said it will contribute to cultivating globally competitive people while helping address the issue of unemployment among young adults.
"A small organization that overseas Korean businesspeople began with a movement to purchase products from our motherland at a difficult time has grown into a massive economic organization with 113 chapters in 61 countries around the world in 30 years," World-OKTA Chairman Kwon Beang-ha said in a speech.
"We will make our best efforts to help improve the national brand of the Republic of Korea so as to help the country grow as one of the world's 10 largest economic powers and expand the business territory of Korean people," he said, referring to South Korea by its official name.
President Lee praised the association and its members for their efforts to help with the economic development of their homeland without losing their Korean identity, and asked them to be more successful so as to become a major force in the global economy.
He also emphasized the importance of free trade agreements, saying that trade is the one and only way for South Korea to survive in the world.
"We are the smallest country in the Group of 20 countries but you should know that Korea has become a country with the largest economic territory among G-20 nations through FTAs," Lee said in a speech.
"The only way for Korea to survive is through trade," he said.
"Experiences have shown that FTAs can double or triple growth."
Yonhap News Agency President and CEO Park said that the World-OKTA played an important role in turning South Korea into one of the world's largest economies while growing into the biggest association of Korean business people.
"Yonhap News, which has the most powerful network of reporters around the world among local media, will spare no efforts to let the activities of OKTA members be known to public through a new 24-hour news-only cable channel to be launched in the second half of the year," Park said.
Monday's ceremony began with the viewing of a video chronicling how the organization has developed since its foundation. President Lee signed a visitors' book, delivered a congratulatory speech and cut a celebratory rice cake with other participants, officials said.
Other participants included Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Joong-kyung, Culture Minister Choung Byoung-gug, Welfare Minister Chin Soo-hee, Labor Minister Bahk Jae-wan and a number of senior lawmakers, including Reps. Hong Joon-pyo, Kim Moo-sung and Na Kyung-won.
Also attending the event were Sohn Kyung-shik, president of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Lee Hee-beom, chief of the Korea Employers Federation; and Kim Ki-mun, head of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business.