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2018 OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2018

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Economic growth picked up in 2017, but reforms are needed to sustain Korea's convergence toward the income levels in the most advanced countries. Its labour productivity is only half of that in the top half of OECD countries, reflecting problems in the service sector. In addition, productivity in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in manufacturing is only one-third of that in large firms. The segmentation of the labour market between regular and non-regular workers has resulted in one of the highest levels of wage inequality among OECD countries. The employment rate of women is relatively low and the gender wage gap is the largest in the OECD. Korea faces the most rapid population ageing in the OECD area, which is projected to drive up government social spending from 10% of GDP to 26% by 2060. This Economic Survey of Korea assesses the country's recent macroeconomic performance and prospects. It also offers recommendations on how to achieve the government's objective of a paradigm shift from growth led by business groups (chaebols) to a greater role for SMEs and innovative start-ups through wide-ranging reforms to enhance competition, improve corporate governance, promote entrepreneurship and upgrade SME policies. This should be accompanied by labour market reforms to increase employment of women, youth and older persons and to break down dualism to achieve more inclusive growth.

SPECIAL FEATURES: REFORMING THE LARGE BUSINESS GROUPS; ENHANCING DYNAMISM IN SMES

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Reforming the large business groups to promote productivity and inclusion in Korea

Large business groups, which played a key role in Korea’s economic development, are still dominant today, especially in exporting. The concentration of economic power creates a number of problems and risks. Ensuring a level-playing field between the business groups, also called chaebols, and SMEs and start-ups is essential to promote innovation and inclusive growth. While the business groups have long been subject to a number of special regulations, a comprehensive strategy is needed. The top priority is to improve corporate governance by strengthening the role of outside directors and protecting minority shareholders. A greater say for institutional investors and more active use of private remedies, such as class action suits, would also be beneficial. In addition, strengthening competition by reducing barriers to trade and FDI and activating a market for corporate control would lead to better performance by the groups. The ownership structure of the groups needs to be improved, notably by phasing out circular shareholding among their affiliates.

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