Since joining the OECD in 1996, Korea has made impressive progress in raising living standards. Over 1996-2016, the country closed the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita gap with the OECD average by 26 percentage points. Vibrant exports underpinned strong economic growth, with Korea becoming the eighth largest exporter in the world. The country’s focus on innovation (its R&D spending is the second highest in the OECD) combined with its highly skilled population (it is among the top performers in the OECD’s Programme of International Student Assessment) supported this success. However, the convergence of Korea’s living standards to those in the most advanced countries has stalled in recent years. Output growth has slowed from 4.4% annually over 2001-10 to 2.8% since 2011. The country faces strong competition from emerging economies, notably the People’s Republic of China in low- and medium-end markets, and with advanced economies in high-end markets. This makes it more difficult for Korea to further expand its global market share.
The OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy held a Ministerial-level meeting in Daejeon, Korea on 20-21 October 2015. Discussions addressed innovation strategies, impact of public investment, science policies for the 21st century, science and innovation for health, new technologies for a sustainable future and the green economy, and science and innovation for global inclusiveness.
The Korean innovation system is in many ways highly developed and has helped to underpin Korea’s rapid industrialisation. However, long-standing policy emphases on manufacturing and large firms are today in question. Structural problems - such as the relatively weak innovation performance of SMEs, a lagging services sector and limited domestic job creation among the industrial conglomerates - have led to a shift in policy priorities. This shift is crystallised in the current government’s Creative Economy Strategy, which entails a far-reaching set of measures aimed at fostering cutting-edge innovation and consolidating a knowledge-based economy increasingly driven by high-value services. This review addresses Korea’s industry and technology policies and institutions, and provides policy recommendations.
A year ahead of Korea chairing the next G20 Summit, Mr. Gurría described in Seoul the “cocktail” of strategy, policies and framework conditions that will enable economies to harness new sources of economic growth, prevent environmental degradation and enhance the quality of life.