President Moon Jae-in on Thursday attended an event to announce “Regulation Reform Measures in Medical Equipment Industry” at Seoul National University Medical Center in Bundang in Gyeonggi Province. During the event, he announced the government would cut the evaluation period of cutting-edge medical equipment from 390 days to 80 and made an announcement on a comprehensive negative regulation system to relax all regulations except for a few limited areas as far as the safety of medical equipment is guaranteed. This is the first time that President Moon has made a field visit for regulations reforms since his inauguration in May last year.
“The purpose is to stress the importance of realizing innovative growth through regulation reforms,” said Cheong Wa Dae about the president’s proactive efforts of attending the event and lending an attentive ear to the cases of business innovations. On the flip side, however, this reflects the difficulty that the current regulations reforms are going through. Last month, President Moon abruptly canceled the “Second Regulation Reforms Review Meeting” in the last minute, and it was a shock treatment to restore the driving force for reforms. On Wednesday, the goal of making a 3% annual economic growth was officially rescinded, reflecting the trouble that the country is suffering from recently in realizing income-led growth, which is one of the main reasons behind the president’s emphasis on innovation growth.
The president’s decisions for regulation reforms are clearly laudable, but the barriers to reform still remain high. Even from inside the ruling party, there are voices of opposition against relaxing the regulation on medical devices, claiming that it is to meet the industry’s demand to lower the safety standard. In addition, the Ministry of Health and Welfare made an official announcement in June to scrap a medical profitability policy.
The 323 members of the so-called “progressive” Elite Announcement Network on Thursday issued a statement to denounce the regression of chaebol reforms and economic democratization. They claimed that the practical economic policies that the extremely conservative political powers pursued for the last nine years were nothing but relaxation of regulations and its purpose was to be “business friendly,” but the result was abject. If anyone should be labeled as “extremely conservative,” it would be those that dampen the morale of a president making a field visit for regulation reforms. Interpreting regulation reforms the same as a “pro-chaebol policy,” the progressive left-wingers have been the biggest obstacle to the administration’s regulation reform efforts.
The National Assembly, which legislates the demands from civic and interest groups without any filtering, is also a factory churning out a massive amount of regulations. “We beseeched that we need to make a drastic step to relax regulations for five years, but some 800 new regulation bills poured out,” said Park Yong-man, the chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on Thursday. According to the Regulation Reforms Committee, a whopping 2,344 bills were proposed to the National Assembly to either establish or strengthen regulations during the first half of the 20th session.
A shadow of failure is looming over the Moon administration’s income-led growth plan, and if its regulation reforms drive falls through, the current administration’s economic policy will collapse eventually. Now that President Moon’s regulation reforms are in full swing, he will have to make an encompassing effort to win the heart of interest and civic groups, labor circles, ideologically-obsessed advisors, as well as the public officials and the policymakers, who confuse regulations with rights. The demand for regulation reforms has always been loud from the previous administrations. Despite the successive efforts, however, trouble remains in our society in the form of regulations. The president must show a “now or never” determination and tear down the imposing wall of regulation to prevent his reform drive turning into a Sisyphean effort.