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[ASEAN-Korea Summit] [Herald Interview] SMEs minister hopes for brisk exchanges between startups and ASEAN

Park Young-sun is a veteran female politician who has frequently made the news with her boldness and initiatives. She now serves as minister of small and medium enterprises and startups.
Since taking office in March, Minister Park has shown outstanding political power and careful attention to detail.
But SMEs increasingly face challenges, such as the advent of the “fourth industrial revolution” and the increased minimum wage.
The Korea Herald interviewed Minister Park about possible solutions to difficulties faced by SMEs and her ministry’s policies to support startups.

Korea Herald: What has been the most impressive or meaningful moment during your eight months as a minister?

Park: One of the government’s best achievements was to create the SMEs and Startup Ministry. The new ministry became a tool to help SME owners and it lets them have recognition.
Our ministry emphasizes new industries and expands investment to ventures. We are planning to invest 5 trillion won ($4.2 billion) per year by 2022. Also, we are expecting the second “venture boom.”
Our ministry sent a startup business delegation for northern European countries when President Moon was visiting there in summer, to drum up the morale of startup owners and youths.

Park Young-sun, minister of small and medium enterprises and startups (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Park Young-sun, minister of small and medium enterprises and startups (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

KH: The SMEs and Startup Ministry has become the main host of events related to fostering startups. In particular, the 2019 ROK-ASEAN Startup Expo, ComUp 2019, is drawing attention at home and abroad. What is the significance of the startup expo to be held in Busan?

Park: This event is aimed at strengthening cooperation and solidarity between South Korean and ASEAN’s startup fields, and it will help accelerate the K-beauty industry’s entry into ASEAN markets.
The ministry is planning to build an active sharing and co-developing environment for South Korea’s and ASEAN’s startups through the Busan event.
South Korea’s and ASEAN’s unicorn companies, such as game company Krafton, e-commerce giant Coupang, startups and investors will join this event to share their developing strategies and global trends, and they would like to find possible ways to cooperate with one another.
In particular, this event will be a chance to showcase South Korean advanced small and midsized companies’ items to ASEAN countries, such as Brand K, which collaborates with K-pop performances.
We will continuously make efforts to raise ASEAN’s proportion of the nation’s small and midsized companies’ overseas exports from the current 20 percent to 30 percent.

KH: What is your ministry’s main plan to strengthen SME owners’ self-reliance?

Park: One of the ministry’s measures is to support their online business as they move to expand their product sales on the internet.
Another measure is to launch “smart stores,” in which artificial intelligence can be used to take reservations during a busy lunchtime, or augmented reality technology and 3D scanners can be provided. Other support measures included spreading success models.
In terms of financial support, our ministry plans to expand its special subsidies to 5 trillion won and increase funds for SME owners with low credit.
In addition, the government will help SMEs preparing for closure by establishing a “shutting-down support center” to reduce their financial and administrative burdens.
As for a social safety net, the ministry will ease the requirement for joining unemployment insurance.

KH: Please explain your ambitious project aimed at strengthening the nation’s materials, parts and equipment industries to counter Japan’s trade measures.

Park: Our ministry has played a mediatory role in linking big companies to SMEs with high technologies as a way to overtake Japan’s competitiveness.
We have found “hidden champions,” or small but powerful companies, which we judge as having technology levels that are higher than that of Japan.
In addition, we will provide 200 billion won next year for the research and development of SMEs.

KH: Your ministry played a pivotal role in creating the “boom of ventures.” What measures does your ministry have in mind to spur the atmosphere?

Park: To leap up to the top four nations in venture investment, the government will earmark a 1 trillion won budget and push for deregulation so that funds can flow into the venture business sector.
Finally, the ministry is promoting the revision of relevant laws to help SMEs survive and prosper in the era of the “fourth industrial revolution” and under changes in the political environment. 

By Lee Kwon-hyung (