chapter  5
Trade and investment policy and equity in South Korea
ByOliver Morrissey and Dirk Willem te Velde
Pages 15

The 1990s began well for South Korea but ended with a severe but brief recession following the East Asian crisis of 1997; GDP declined by over 6 per cent in 1998, although growth has been estimated at 10 per cent in 1999. Over the decade as a whole, real GDP grew by over 5 per cent per annum. The impressive growth performance since the 1960s has been associated with declining levels of inequality and poverty, although many of these gains were lost immediately following the crisis of 1997. Trade (and industrial) policy played an important role in Korean growth. Contrary to the predictions of traditional trade theory, however, increased trade has not been associated with increasing wage differentials or income inequality. Although average tariffs are relatively low in Korea, they are variable and there is significant government intervention in the economy, as has underpinned Korean growth since the 1960s. Korea had a relatively liberal trade regime by the 1980s, and few significant trade reforms were implemented in the 1990s excepting significant liberalisation of trade in services. For these reasons, Korea is a worthwhile case study on the links between trade, growth and inequality, and provides a case where growth has been poverty reducing.