The Korea Herald


Koo hopes to open new chapter for Korean trade body

Top businessman marks first ‘non-bureaucrat’ chief for trade organization in 15 years

By Bae Hyunjung

Published : Feb. 24, 2021 - 15:18

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LS Group Chairman Koo Ja-yeol. (Yonhap) LS Group Chairman Koo Ja-yeol. (Yonhap)
The Korea International Trade Association on Wednesday confirmed LS Group Chairman Koo Ja-yeol, 68, as chairman, welcoming the first chief in 15 years who is not a former high-profile government official.

Also, with Koo’s rise to the post, South Korea’s top five business advocacy groups are now all represented by incumbent corporate leaders

The trade organization held its general meeting at the Trade Tower in Seoul’s eastern Samseong-dong on Wednesday morning and officially appointed the business chief as its 31st chairman, officials said in a statement.

Assuming the post for an initial term of three years, Koo became the first KITA chief in 15 years who does not come from civil service background.

Given the organization’s history -- having kicked off as a corporation under the Trade Ministry in 1946 -- and its role in the nation’s trade arena, KITA’s past chiefs were mostly former top government officials. The list includes former Trade Minister Lee Hee-beom, former Finance Minister Sakong Il, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Han Duck-soo.

Incumbent Chairman Kim Young-joo had also served as trade minister from 2007 to 2008. Kim is to step down at the end of this month, after serving two consecutive terms since 2017.

Such bureaucratic leadership tradition has triggered to some complaints within the industrial circles that the organization does not sufficiently represent the market players as it should.

“It is desirable to appoint an experienced business figure (to the KITA chairman post) as the industrial circles need to respond nimbly to the trade uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kim said earlier, recommending Koo for the job.

Koo is also marked for following the footsteps of his late father, Koo Pyeong-hoe, who had filled the seat from 1994 to 1999.

LS Group, where Koo currently sits as chairman, was spun off from LG Group in 2003 and includes energy affiliates such as LS Cable & System and LS Electric. The conglomerate was ranked as the country’s ninth-largest in market capitalization as of end-2020.

Since joining Lucky Goldstar International -- which was later renamed LG International -- in 1978, Koo has served in various posts at the conglomerate’s trade and financial affiliates and rose to take the helm as LS Group’s second chairman in 2013.

Koo’s latest appointment came a day after SK Group chief Chey Tae-won de facto clinched his position as incoming chief of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Seoul Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the regional branch of the KCCI, on Tuesday held a general meeting at the KCCI headquarters in central Seoul and confirmed Chey Tae-won as its 24th chairman.

Under given practices, Chey was automatically put forward for the nationwide KCCI chairmanship -- a nomination that will be finalized at the KCCI meeting slated for March 24. He will be serving an initial term of three years and may be reappointed once.

Chey’s leadership marked the first case that the KCCI is to be headed by a chief of one of the so-called “Big Four” conglomerates here -- Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK, and LG.

Also, with the rise of Koo and Chey, the nation’s major business advocacy groups have come to be led by incumbent business figures.

The nation’s five major business lobby groups are the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Korea International Trade Association, Federation of Korean Industries, Korea Enterprises Federation, and Korea Federation of SMEs.

Of them, FKI is largely expected to reappoint incumbent Chairman Huh Chang-soo during the general meeting slated for this Friday. The GS Group chairman, who has already been in the post for 10 years, will then be serving his fifth term in office as FKI does not limit the number of reappointments.

The KEF is currently led by CJ Group Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik and KBIZ by Kim Ki-mun, chairman of jewelry and cosmetic firm J. Estina.

By Bae Hyun-jung (