November 17, 2020


2020 Joint Statement: 32nd USKBC-KUSBC Joint Plenary

U.S.-Korea Business Council and Korea-U.S. Business Council

November 16-17, 2020 EST | November 17-18, 2020 KST

Members of the U.S.-Korea Business Council and the Korea-U.S. Business Council (the “Councils”) held the 32nd Annual Joint Plenary Meeting on November 16-17 EST (November 17-18 KST) in a hybrid—in-person and virtual—format due to public health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Centered around the theme, “Fostering U.S.-Korea Commercial Relations and Promoting Economic Growth and Innovation,” the Councils assembled senior business leaders from the United States and Korea to discuss creative ways to enhance U.S.-Korea commercial collaboration and business resiliency and to promote sustainable economic growth. In addition, the Councils discussed sectoral opportunities and challenges in the digital economy, acknowledging the economic impact of the pandemic.

As this year marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, the Councils commemorated the U.S.-Korea alliance, which continues to be the lynchpin of peace and stability both on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. This important anniversary has given our two countries the occasion to celebrate not just our rich history rooted in a common cause, but also our shared values and democratic principles. As the two countries look to strengthen the alliance into the future, the Councils explored areas in which both private sectors can contribute to the bilateral relationship. The Councils appreciate efforts by both governments to sustain an ongoing dialogue on regulatory, policy, and technology issues and build on the strength of bilateral ties to enhance their partnership on regional and global issues.

Now more than ever as we prepare for a post-pandemic world, the Councils believe it is also crucial to turn our focus to sustained economic growth and innovation. To this end, we discussed a number of innovative areas for public-private sector collaboration not only in jointly establishing the necessary infrastructure for a thriving digital economy, but also in working together to develop harmonized regulatory frameworks that encourage the growth of our two countries’ digital economies. Specifically, we discussed the importance of regulatory coherence in this space and emphasized that the business community is often faced with duplicative rules and regulations. The Councils urge the review and harmonization of policies, laws, rules, and regulations to streamline business compliance and minimize their deviations from global standards.

The Councils recognize the importance of bolstering U.S.-Korea cooperation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic uncertainty, in close cooperation with like-minded countries that share our values and democratic principles. We believe the following recommendations will help enhance bilateral commercial ties, and in turn, the overall U.S.-Korea relationship.

  1. Support government policies that foster U.S.-Korea commercial collaboration and crisis management.As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in global supply chains and our economies, the Councils urge a renewed collaborative effort by our two governments, along with the private sector, to strengthen and diversify supply chains against future crises. We encourage our two governments to support businesses efforts to diversify and make new investments in ways that enhance our collective supply chain security. The pandemic also reinforced the importance of digital innovation to our societies, particularly given their crucial role in the worldwide public health response to COVID-19. Early on, the Korean government integrated digital technologies into its containment and mitigation strategy – including testing, contact tracing, and strict quarantine measures – which allowed the country to swiftly “flatten the curve.” Moreover, digital technologies enabled the continuation of essential economic functions, including the facilitation of the delivery of key healthcare goods and services. As such, the Councils view the Korean New Deal to be a step in the right direction, as the proposal for economic recovery presents a major opportunity for public-private sector collaboration on the development of harmonized regulatory frameworks that encourage the growth of Korea’s digital economy. In addition, the Councils also encourage the two governments to strengthen engagement with both the U.S. and Korean private sectors to ensure best practices and global standards. Furthermore, the U.S. and Korean business community urge both governments to work together to pursue a science-based and data-driven approach to COVID-19 testing and risk mitigation strategies which could limit the need for traveler quarantines that could negatively affect economic and business activities through the implementation of comprehensive, cost-effective pre-departure testing procedures and contact tracing protocols.
  2. Advocate for policies that strengthen and promote the rules-based global trading system.At a time of rising protectionist measures worldwide, a trend that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Councils believe that the United States and Korea can strengthen bilateral and multilateral economic relationships in order to restore sustainable economic recovery and growth. The Councils urge the two governments to reject trade restrictions that harm the free and rules-based global trading system. We especially encourage both governments, in coordination with other like-minded countries, to eliminate trade-restrictive measures based on overly broad application of import restrictions based on national security considerations, such as those contained in Section 232 of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act. In addition, the Councils urge the two governments to further enhance bilateral trade and investment under the framework of the Korea-U.S. FTA, particularly through digital trade. We encourage the two economies to leverage opportunities for cooperation on 5G, AI, emerging technologies, and the broader digital economy. The Councils discussed the Korean government’s consideration of legislation that would vastly expand the country’s class action law and agreed to further study the impact of the proposed measure on the Korean business environment. The Councils also encourage both governments to work collaboratively with other like-minded countries through regional and international fora such as APEC, the OECD, and the WTO on a range of emerging and longstanding challenges related to infrastructure, data, cybersecurity, digital taxation, and WTO reform.
  3. Review and coordinate regulatory frameworks for emerging technologies.The Councils believe that in order to develop new technology requirements related to AI, cloud, and other data and cybersecurity challenges, sustained dialogue with the private sector is critical to ensuring that new regulations do not lead to non-tariff and technical barriers to trade. The Councils encourage regulators to take all stakeholders into account as they consider changes to policies that will have a broad effect on our countries’ information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem of startups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and global companies. We also urge consistency with pre-existing bilateral and multilateral trade agreements in regard to policies that involve trade in digital goods or services.
  4. Promote Responsible Global Development and Deployment of 5G: The Councils believe it is important for governments to devote more resources to the promotion of industry leadership in the development of standards, intellectual property, and patents that are essential to the deployment of an open technologies-based, secure, and trusted 5G ecosystem. We share the view that there is no place for untrusted, high-risk vendors in any part of 5G networks. Further, we believe that the U.S. and Korean governments, along with their allies and partners, must foster trust and improve security through continued engagement with the private sector on risk identification and mitigation efforts, as well as the promotion of continued development of trusted 5G technologies, services, and products.
  5. Improve public health outcomes and promote bilateral cooperation in biotech innovation. As both countries continue to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prepare for future public health crises, the private sector will play an increasingly important role in meeting the rise in public demand for healthcare and digital healthcare solutions. As such, the Councils encourage the two governments to create a transparent and predictable regulatory environment through regular public-private dialogues from the initial planning stages to the implementation of policies that increase access to care and improve health outcomes. Further, we remain committed to continued cooperation in the innovative biotech industry and urge the two governments to promote a business environment that incentivizes investment in innovation.
  6. Strengthen U.S.-Korea private sector commitment to sustainable business practices. Given the significant impact COVID-19 has had on the global economy in a short period of time, the pandemic could be a major turning point for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, particularly as businesses’ sustainable management and business resilience strategies have become key factors in countering the economic fallout. To this end, the Councils will work to identify and highlight best practices related to sustainable and climate friendly growth and development. Additionally, the Councils believe that promoting socially and environmentally conscious business practices will be essential to the health of our economies and paths for sustainable growth.

As investors, employers, and business leaders operating in both countries, the Councils welcome the opportunity to provide our comments. We believe that acting on these recommendations will foster innovation and sustainable economic growth in both the United States and Korea and allow for continued commercial collaboration between our economies.

The Councils agree to hold the 33rd USKBC-KUSBC Joint Plenary Meeting in the Fall of 2021 in Seoul.