EWC Board Member Appointed to Lead Korean Presidential Transition Competitiveness Council

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HONOLULU (Jan. 11) – East-West Center Board of Governors member Il SaKong has been appointed to the transition team of South Korea’s president-elect Lee Myung-bak.  Dr. SaKong, a former finance minister, will co-chair the transition team’s special council on national competitiveness, along with David Eldon, chairman of the Dubai International Financial Center and the only foreign member of the team. The subcommittee is charged with developing blueprints to advance Lee’s goals of invigorating the Korean economy through measures such as the creation of an international hub city for science and business, increased foreign investment and reduced red tape and overlapping jurisdictions in the public sector.

The plans are part of Lee’s so-called "747 pledge" expand the nation’s annual growth rate to 7 percent, raise annual per capita income to $40,000 and make Korea the world’s seventh-largest economy within a decade. Lee claimed a landslide victory in South Korea’s presidential election on Dec. 19. He will be sworn in Feb. 25.

“The very establishment of the national competitiveness council in the Presidential transition team itself clearly indicates the new government's policy priority on enhancing the nation's competitiveness,” SaKong said of the council’s mandate. “In fact, this council will be evolved into a formal entity in the President's office.”

SaKong is chairman and CEO of the Institute for Global Economics in Seoul. He was formerly Minister of Finance (1987-88) and Senior Secretary to the President for Economic Affairs (1983-87). He also served the Korean government as Ambassador for International Economy and Trade (2000-02), and member of the Council of National Economic Affairs for the President (2001-04).  He has also been an advisor to the International Monetary Fund and is the author of many books and articles.

SaKong joined the East-West Center Board of Governors in October 2002. Prior to that, he served for five years on the Center’s International Advisory Panel.

SaKong is a strong proponent of the recently negotiated Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the U.S and South Korea. In an East-West Wire interview last April, he said that the FTA  “is one of the best things that could have happened for Korea’s sustained economic growth. Undoubtedly, the Korean economy will benefit a great deal through its freer access to the world’s largest market. What is more important, however, is that the Korea-U.S. FTA will provide significant momentum for Korea to upgrade its overall economic system faster.”  

Click here to read the complete interview.

Although negotiated, the FTA has yet to be considered by either the Korean National Assembly or the U.S. Senate. 

SaKong’s co-chair on the competitiveness subcommittee, David Eldon, suggested recently that the new government would create a special international financial zone similar to Dubai in a bid to stimulate foreign investment. Eldon’s remarks fleshed out the incoming president’s campaign pledge to establish a global financial center in Jeju Island. 

“Financial institutes that enter Dubai not only enjoy near zero percent tax privileges but also a stable government and autonomous regulatory authorities,” Eldon told reporters. “Korea’s problem is its duplicated financial regulations. This is the biggest difference between Korea and Dubai.” 

The EAST-WEST CENTER is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations, and the governments of the region.