Heads of South Korea's largest conglomerates on Thursday vowed efforts to outperform expectations for the country's economy this year and urged an early implementation of a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States to help achieve their goal.
The ambitious plan came from the executive council of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the largest industry lobby in South Korea with a membership of more than 600 of the largest companies here.
"We, members of the executive council, agreed to make personal efforts to help the country achieve an economic growth of over 5 percent this year through an expansion of investment and exports," the council said in a joint statement released at the end of its first quarterly meeting at a Seoul hotel.
The Seoul government earlier predicted the country's economy will grow a little over 5 percent this year, with the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific saying it will likely grow around 4.2 percent mainly due to worsening global economic conditions.
The FKI executives said that was why "aggressive investment and searches of new markets will be more important than ever."
South Korea is hoping to boost its exports to a record high of over US$500 billion this year, which would likely also put its total trade volume at over $1 trillion.
One way to quickly increase exports, the FKI leaders said, is to implement the country's free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union while also seeking new trade deals with newly emerging markets.
The FKI executives, who each head one of the country's largest businesses, said they will fulfill their earlier pledge to aggressively invest, but noted the government needed to help and guide the companies to focus more on areas that will improve the country's overall competitiveness and create new growth engines.
"And the FKI will continuously make suggestions to the government to redirect the government's policy to that end," the statement said.
Thursday's meeting of the FKI executive council was partly aimed at finding the organization's new head, a post earlier offered to but repeatedly rejected by Lee Kun-hee, chairman of South Korea's largest conglomerate, Samsung Group.
Lee is also a member of the FKI council, but was absent from Thursday's meeting as he is on a trip to Japan.
Jung Byung-chul, vice chairman of the FKI and also a member of its executive council, said the council was in the process of finding a new leader but no decision was made Thursday.
"It appears chairman Lee Kun-hee will likely be unable to accept the position," Jung told reporters shortly after the council meeting. "(The council) has yet to talk to anyone about the job except chairman Lee."
The council executives were earlier said to be mulling asking Lee again to take the position or finding a different leader among heads of other large conglomerates, including the chairman of the country's second-largest conglomerate Hyundai Motor Group, Chung Mong-koo, and Lee Joon-yong, the FKI's eldest member and honorary chairman of Daelim Industrial Co., Ltd.