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Argentina's VP calls on Korea to help create jobs, tackle poverty

Argentina's vice president called on South Korea Tuesday to help lift millions of Argentinians out of poverty as the new administration in Buenos Aires pushes to revive the country's economy.

Gabriela Michetti, who took office in December upon the election of reformist President Mauricio Macri, arrived in Seoul Sunday on a three-day visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries.

Speaking in a joint interview with Yonhap News Agency and the Maeil Business Newspaper, she made clear that her primary goal was to attract South Korean investment.

"Our country is currently pushing forward a very ambitious investment plan," Michetti said. "Through this investment plan, we plan to generate jobs, and by creating jobs, our ambitious aim is to root out the poverty level that amounts to one-third of our population."

South America's second-largest economy has grappled for years with an economic recession that has eroded the livelihoods of a large proportion of the country's 43 million people. Last year, the country posted a growth rate of 0.4 percent and an inflation rate of 26.9 percent.

Michetti underscored the importance of working with the private sector at home and abroad to reverse that trend.

"I hope we will be able to build good partnerships with the many advanced companies in South Korea to generate jobs in our country," she said, pointing to various investment opportunities in infrastructure development, energy, autos and agricultural goods.

Last year, South Korean firms invested a total of US$180 million in Argentina, which is also rich in natural resources such as copper and lithium.

"Our new government is opening a new era that is unprecedented in Argentina," Michetti said, taking a swipe at the previous administration of then President Cristina Fernandez. "We must do away with all the troubles the previous populist government caused with its incorrect practices. We have to normalize the country this year and that means revealing all statistics and economic data in a realistic and transparent manner."

Michetti also expressed an appreciation for the Korean community in her country whose number has expanded to about 30,000 since the first generation of Korean farming immigrants arrived in 1965.

"Through them, we have learned about Korean culture and they have made large contributions to Argentina's development," she said.

In recent years, the so-called Korean Wave of popular Korean culture -- from TV dramas to artwork and pop music -- has won the hearts of many young Argentinians, she added.

When asked, the vice president spoke calmly about the 1994 car accident that paralyzed the lower part of her body and left her in a wheelchair.

Asked how she overcame the personal tragedy, she credited her family and friends as well as medicine and her Catholic faith.

"Through education, I also had the intellectual ability to distinguish between what's important and what's less important, and that was also an important factor," Michetti said.

She acknowledged that while she was privileged to be born into a middle-class family that could afford the medical costs, there are many others in similar situations but without access to the same resources. Michetti is a grandniece of former President Arturo Illia.

"In such cases, I believe the state should actively intervene and provide help," she said.

Michetti's visit came at the invitation of Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. During her stay, she held talks with Hwang, paid a courtesy call on President Park Geun-hye and received an honorary doctoral degree at the Catholic University of Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)
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