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South Korea is a major international economic power; it has the twelfth largest economy in the world (eleventh largest by purchasing power parity) and the third largest in Asia, behind only Japan and China (fourth behind China, Japan, and India by purchasing power parity). Its largest trading partner and export market today is China. As one of the Four Asian Tigers, it achieved rapid economic growth through exports of manufactured goods.In the 1950s, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in Asia. At the end of World War II, the country inherited a colonial economic system designed solely for Japan's needs.

Much of the country's infrastructure was destroyed during the Korean War that followed in 1950-1953. After the war, South Korea became heavily dependent on U.S. aid.
Following the military coup led by General Park Chung-hee in 1962, South Korea embarked on a series of ambitious five-year plans for economic development. Emphasis shifted to foreign trade with the normalization of relations with Japan in 1965 and a resulted in a boom in trade and investment. Rapid expansion, first into light and then heavy industries, followed in the 1960s and 1970s. During this period, the South Korean economy grew at an average annual rate of 8.6%.

This phenomenal growth is often called the "Miracle on the Han River", the Han River being the main river that runs through the nation's capital and largest city, Seoul. In the 1980s and 1990's, growth continued as South Korea transformed itself from an exporter of mostly textiles and shoes into a major global producer of automobiles, electronics, shipbuilding, steel and, later, high-technology products such as digital monitors, mobile phones, and semiconductors.

The South Korean model of encouraging the growth of large, internationally competitive companies through easy financing and tax incentives led to the dominance of the family-controlled conglomerates. These companies, known as chaebol, flourished under the support of the Park regime. Some such as Hyundai, Samsung, LG and SK Company became global corporations. In 2004, South Korea joined in the trillion dollar club of world economies.

Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, however, the corporate landscape has changed considerably as a result of massive bankruptcies and government reforms. The crisis exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea's economy, including high debt-to-equity ratios, massive foreign borrowing, and an undisciplined financial sector. This led to two rounds of financial and industrial restructuring; once in 1997 and again following the collapse of Daewoo in 1999. Daewoo's collapse has been recorded as one of the largest bankruptcies in world history. By 2003, just over one-half of the 30 largest chaebol from 1995 remained.

Between 2003 and 2005, economic growth has slowed to about 4% per year, an enviable figure in much of the rest of the world. A downturn in consumer spending, attributed to massive personal credit card debt, was offset by rapid export growth, primarily to China. In 2005, the government proposed labor reform legislation and a corporate pension scheme to help make the labor market more flexible, and new real estate policies to cool property speculation. In 2006, South Korean economy has recovered its growth rate to 5.1%, and its outlook for 2007 is foretold positively.

The South Korean economy is characterized by moderate inflation, low unemployment, an export surplus, and fairly equal distribution of income. South Korea continues to strive to maintain global competitiveness. South Korea has been opened to various employment opportunities in various industries. An example would be the influx of English teachers from native English-speaking countries seeking employment and travel in the country.

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