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FTC chief allays chaebol worries

Antitrust watchdog calls on business to reform voluntarily
June 24,2017
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Fair Trade Commission Chairman Kim Sang-jo, third from the left, and representatives from the country’s top four conglomerates after a meeting at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s headquarters in central Seoul on Friday. From left: SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun, Kim, Hyundai Motor President Chung Jin-haeng, LG Electronics President Ha Hyun-hoi and the chamber’s executive vice chairman, Lee Dong-geun. [YONHAP]
The chairman of Korea’s antitrust agency, who has long been a critic of the country’s powerful conglomerates, met with representatives from the four largest companies on Friday to discuss his vision for big-business reform.

Fair Trade Commission Chairman Kim Sang-jo, whose past consumer rights activism earned him the nickname “conglomerate sniper,” met with Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun, Hyundai Motor President Chung Jin-haeng, LG Electronics President Ha Hyun-hoi and SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho to convey his concerns about their outsized role in the economy.

It was the first time since 2004 that the head of the Fair Trade Commission met with representatives from the top four conglomerates.

“The economic situation, including the country’s economy and individual groups, is changing rapidly, and the people’s views toward large companies have changed significantly,” Kim said. “However, I believe that they haven’t met the market’s expectations. A few of the large companies have become global companies, but a majority of people’s lives have become tougher, which I believe suggests there is a big problem.

“I am not here to say it is all because of the companies,” Kim added, “but I clearly believe that companies need to look back on the past.”

Kim emphasized, as he has since taking office earlier this month, that he does not plan to ram through reform plans, making assurances of a slower and conciliatory approach.

“I don’t think toughening sanctions on companies using administrative power or creating more regulations that might burden management is a good approach,” he said. “This is why I have arranged a meeting to ask businessmen to work on changing themselves pre-emptively and voluntarily, while also asking for their understanding on the new administration’s policies.”

The chairman promised to maintain communication with Korea Inc. on fair trade issues. “I will not make arbitrary moves,” he said. “I will wait as patiently as possible for the companies to change voluntarily.”

Kim expressed interest earlier this week in meeting with representatives from the country’s top four conglomerates. He has made scrutinizing Korea’s top 10 companies a focus of his tenure as fair trade commissioner.

Friday’s meeting was arranged by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the largest business organization in the country, and its executive vice chairman Lee Dong-geun also attended it.

“Professional managers from the four largest groups and our executive vice chairman agreed that the meeting held today helped extending our understanding between the government and companies,” the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry said in a media release. “This was a good opportunity to share possible solutions on various issues surrounding the country’s economy. We will also work on finding ways to contribute a fair trading culture in the country.”

This week, Kim announced that the Fair Trade Commission would review records of transactions between affiliates at 45 conglomerates and take appropriate measures if it finds any unlawful activity.


BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]